Which gets more coverage?


Why Israel-Palestine?

Israel-Palestine is used here because of the sheer levels of disproportion (conflict death tolls versus media coverage). Each time there is conflagration of any kind in Israel-Palestine – huge quantities of media coverage inevitably follow. With the exception of Afghanistan and Iraq (and recently, perhaps Pakistan), no other conflict in the world even comes close in terms of coverage levels (and certainly in terms of disproportion).

In 2009, Afghanistan stood far above all other conflicts in levels of media coverage in the USA and coverage of Iraq, while still very high, had begun to decline – all very much in line with US policy interest. Afghanistan and Iraq are not used here because their death tolls are much larger than Israel-Palestine (in the hundreds of thousands, rather than thousands), and because coverage is more easily explained away considering the direct involvement of the USA as a belligerent in these conflicts.

That said, the problem is not necessarily that there is too much coverage on Israel-Palestine (please do not use this graphic as evidence of Israel being unjustly picked on by the media). Organized violence that results in thousands of deaths is not something that should be downplayed or justified anywhere and for any reason. The problem is that there is not enough coverage of the rest of the world’s cases of organized violence. And when this violence is resulting in millions of deaths, its marginalization by the media should result in red flags, flashing lights, alarms and all manner of questioning on the performance of the media in fulfilling its social responsibilities.


The bold statement in the graphic is based on a number of studies. In this study on media coverage of conflict for the year 2000, the media coverage of the conflict in Israel-Palestine was greater than that for all of Africa’s conflicts combined for all sources studies – BBC, CNN, Le Monde, the New York Times and the Yomiuri newspaper.

A study of the Australian newspaper for the year 2007 yielded similar results. In this case, not only was coverage of conflict greater, but coverage of all subjects/topics associated with Israel-Palestine was greater than that for all of Africa’s 53 countries combined.

Another study on coverage of conflict in US media sources for the year 2009 (the New York Times, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC – the results have yet to be published) again shows (surprise, surprise) that conflict in Israel-Palestine gets far greater coverage than all of Africa’s conflicts combined.

A few pre-emptive strikes on answers:

The graphic asks if there is any valid reason that can justify this state of affairs. Based on past experience (particularly in such havens for anonymous comment), I suspect the following three justifications may come up, so here are a few brief pre-emptive strikes.

“Violence in Africa is barbaric”

How is firing a missile from an Apache helicopter into a house that shreds the flesh and bone of any man, woman or child within any less barbaric than shooting someone with an AK47 or cutting someone with a machete?

“Violence in Africa is chaotic”

It is not. Nor is it irrational. Just like any other conflict in the rest of the world, it is complex. Calling a conflict chaotic simply indicates a lack of understanding (or worse, a failure to even attempt to understand) – see this post for more. In fact, lumping all of the various conflicts on the African continent together and trying to somehow do a mass group analysis is over simplification in the highest degree and cannot be taken seriously.

“Violence in Africa never seems to end”

Lumping all of African conflicts together will of course produce the effect of continual conflict, so before getting into this, why not use individual examples of conflict? And by the way, couldn’t we just as easily say “violence in the Middle East never seems to end”?

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16 Responses to “Which gets more coverage?”

  1. Chi Chi Says:

    Wow, I had no idea about this! Something really needs to be done about the media. Keep up the good fight!

  2. Virgil Says:

    Thanks for the words of encouragement Chi Chi. Stay tuned!

  3. “How is firing a missile from an Apache helicopter into a house that shreds the flesh and bone of any man, woman or child within any less barbaric than shooting someone with an AK47 or cutting someone with a machete?”

    Should’ve also written “How is a suicide bomber in the middle of a shopping mall less barbaric” or “How is firing over 1000 rockets at israeli teritory over the last year not barbaric”…

    Why should you be so biased? No one is innocent in this conflict but as an ex israeli soldier i assure you that no soldier wants o kill civilians, no one wants that on his concious unless he’s really fucked up.

  4. Virgil Says:

    Alon, thanks for the comment.

    Absolutely. Suicide bombers and rockets fall into the same category as Apaches, AK47s and machetes. I chose the Apache simply to make the juxtaposition between extremes of high-tech and low-tech forms of killing.

    In any case, you may have noticed that the purpose of the article is to question why conflicts in Africa are ignored, not to take on the issue of which side is in the wrong in Israel-Palestine – there’s more than enough of that kind of discussion elsewhere.

  5. Look it up, the Jewish people practically owns the media in the US. The conflicts in the middle east have been going on since the bible times. It is a big religious war. For those who believe what the Bible has to say, this is more important than random events in Africa. What the bible has to say about the end times is lining up with what is going on in the European union, United States, and the Middle East. (Primarily between the Jewish and the Palestine nations) A religious war isn’t something that can be just battled out and forgotten. The US has interest with the Jewish nation because if the bible is right then they will be blessed by God and hated by the world. Hated by the world is obvious if you know any history. on the other hand Jews account for less than 1 percent of the worlds population, but then look how many are on Forbes top 100 richest people in the world. That is only the tip of the iceberg; look how Israel’s economy is doing and the population compared to other countries.

    People need to stop asking questions and start looking for answers.

  6. Virgil Says:

    I’m not sure if you are trying to justify the current state of affairs or to give your ideas on why it is as it is.
    In any case, I’d be interested in hearing more about how you manage to interpret the Bible as being concerned with the EU and USA, but not with Africa.
    And what do you mean by “random events in Africa”? I don’t know what you think is random about events there…

  7. We’ve (the westenr world) been pillaging africa since king Leopold and using africa as a growth engine for western world, so sadly it’s convinient for the majority of us to look away…

  8. Benjamin Koshkin Says:

    There is no doubt that the media in general is not interested in reporting the news, but sensationalizing events to make money. For every positive heart warming event reported there are probably 10 murders, rapes, robberies, etc. reported.

    Benjamin Koshkin

  9. Alon and Benjamin,
    Some cold hard realities there… But not necessarily realities set in stone. After all, we have the internet, and although it is subject to many of the same realities and constraints as the rest of the mass media, there is plenty more room to move and get the word out.

  10. To answer the author’s first question, I think the reason might be that the US supports Israel in the conflict and it is quite frowned upon by most of this country. No one condones what Israel and Palestine are doing, but for reasons beyond our control we are in support of a nation that normally we would stop from this kind of behavior. Yes there are many conflicts all over Africa but we are not directly involved in it.

  11. Well Israel is currently the US’s primary beneficiary of US foreign aid (about $3b/year) and they’ve been one of our few allies in the Middle East since the Cold War, and that same alliance has fomented anti-US sentiment abroad according to Petraeus… so I can understand why attention is paid to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That doesn’t excuse the absence of reporting on Africa, but still I can see why we take a look at the Holy Land.

  12. Virgil,
    First of all, I’d like to tell you that I appreciate this post a lot.
    Secondly, I think it’s also important to note how this extends beyond simply what is covered in the media and finds its way into the UN.
    Though I will say upfront that I personally support Israel, I want to make it clear that I think that there are probably human rights violations committed by israeli soldiers. As is the case with all countries, you are bound to find human rights violations because this world contains humans, who have historically violated the rights of other humans through the ages. Yet, it is interesting how often Israel is put in the spotlight despite human rights violations in Africa, China, Russia, the U.S. and probably even in Europe. The amount of times Israel has had to defend itself against human rights violations at the UN, compared to any other country in the world, is as disproportionate as the media focus.
    I wish I were better-versed in the statistics, but I think it’s worthwhile addressing this issue, too.

  13. Bre and adr,
    I understand that one of the reasons for heavy media coverage of Israel-Palestine is the strong interest by US policymakers in the USA. That is, the media are following and taking their cues on foreign policy from the policymakers (I realize it is not quite this simple). Now in an ‘ideal’ version of democracy, the policymakers are supposed to do what the people want them to do, and the media is supposed to be a vehicle for facilitating this communication. The case I have introduced seems way too far in the other direction. The media is communicating the interests of the policymakers to the public, but far from communicating the interests of the people to the policymakers, it is not even helping the people to learn about what is going on in the world. As a result, the people know next to nothing about the world’s deadliest conflict, and therefore have nothing to ask their policymakers to do about it… Yes, huge amounts of US aid are going to Israel, but maybe if the people had a better idea of what is going on in the world, they might ask their policymakers to readjust its allocation of aid. The media is critical in facilitating both of these actions.

  14. Fogeltine,
    The issue of Israel being disproportionately singled out at the ‘UN’ is indeed one that is worth looking at, but I think it is an issue that is getting plenty of attention and debate in many fora at many levels. Here at Stealth Conflicts we try to be look at issues that don’t get enough attention – most notably the world’s deadliest conflicts.
    And by the way, it’s best to be clear here about which ‘UN’ you are talking about – the Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Secretariat etc – they are all very different and are dominated by very different powers.

  15. Reasons:
    1. Oil
    2. The British still resent having had their ass kicked by Israel
    3. Its easier for a report to file a story from the relative safety of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem; they wouldn’t dare go to the areas of conflict in Africa.
    4. See number 1.
    5. Hubris on the part of reporters.
    6. Double Standard. In 1912 a Mexican Bandit held up a bank in El Paso, TX. Black Jack Pershing was subsequently sent to invade Mexico. If the USA had received the shelling from Gaza that Israel received we would have carpet bombed it, civilians and all.

  16. […] are correct that the Israeli-Arab conflict has not resulted in nearly so much death as ongoing conflicts in Africa. You can see from this webpage that, even though the vast majority of conflict-related deaths over […]

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