As noted in my previous post, 2009 was an exceptionally deadly year for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with fighting displacing more than 1 million people. You probably didn’t hear all that much about it, though.
I did a search for news items on the DRC covered by major US news networks on the evening news (Vanderbilt University has a great online archive of the evening news, covering ABC, CBS, NBC, one hour per day of CNN, and Fox) for the year 2009. The search turned up just ten news items for the entire year on all of the networks combined.
Here they are:
23-Jan-09 CNN Arrest of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda
26-Mar-09 ABC Sanctuary for endangered bonobos
28-Apr-09 CNN Rescue of baby gorilla in Congo
22-May-09 ABC Plight of child witches
10-Aug-09 ABC Clinton’s Africa tour, question about Bill Clinton
10-Aug-09 NBC Angry response to question about Bill Clinton
10-Aug-09 CBS Angry response to question about Bill Clinton
10-Aug-09 CNN Angry response to question about Bill Clinton
11-Aug-09 CNN Clinton with rape victims in refugee camp
20-Dec-09 ABC Threat to hippos from Congo conflict
Aside from the obvious almost complete marginalization of the country and the conflict, the content of the news on the few occasions it was covered speaks volumes.
Of the ten times the DRC was covered, only one news item covered the political developments in the conflict (the arrest of Nkunda), and that piece went for all of about 20 seconds. Three pieces covered the plight of animals in the DRC – bonobos, a single baby gorilla and hippos threatened by the conflict. One piece dealt with the issue of children accused of being witches and their parents who are forced to pay for exorcism – an exotic attention-grabber.
The remaining five pieces all covered Hillary Clinton’s brief visit to the DRC. Four of those focused on the incident in which Clinton lost her temper when a Congolese student asked for her husband’s opinion on an international financial matter (there had been an error in the translation), while the fifth covered Clinton’s visit to a refugee camp.
Considering all the political, military and humanitarian developments that were missed in 2009, what are we to conclude? That the DRC is only relevant if important Western policymakers visit (and do something interesting), if cute animals are threatened, or if there is something that feeds our need for our ‘heart of darkness’ stereotype to be confirmed (like witchcraft)?
One thing we certainly can conclude is that however religiously we watch the evening news, we are really not going to know all that much about what is going on in the world.