Friday, 23 April 2010

The global media: on picking and choosing wars and the Am-mex region

The power of the global media to set the international agenda is incredible. The news the world watches on international television channels and reads in umpteen newspapers is eerily alike.

Television channels like CNN and BBC, despite their respective US and British centric biases, carry almost identical news. Similarly, given the propensity of newswires like AP, AFP and Reuters to dominate the print media, newsreaders in Hong Kong, London and Sydney often read the same articles on major international events.
Surely, there are economic reasons for the monopoly on news by major international players. Undoubtedly, the world benefits by increased and convenient information flow.
Some items make the news and others do not. The war on terror makes the grade but the war on drugs does not.
Consider the global war on terror. Each and every day for almost the last decade global citizens are bombarded with considerable details on any event, large or small, related to the war on terror. Even a firecracker exploding in Pakistan's tribal areas will flash across CNN screens ('through reliable sources CNN has learnt of an explosion in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas') within a few minutes.
Americans, not generally known for their grasp of international geography, are suddenly aware of the finer distinctions between North Waziristan, South Waziristan and the towns of Mir Ali and Wana. Not surprisingly, most Pakistanis are themselves not fully aware about the existence (and legal framework) of the various agencies within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The war on terror is real for the world, whether it is fought in Yemen, Iraq or Afghanistan.

On the contrary, few know of the war on drugs being waged just south of the Rio Grande River. Perhaps only the scores of civilians dying daily in Northern Mexican towns such as Juarez, or those killed in shootouts in the hotel district of Mexico's prime beach resort, Acapulco know of this forgotten war.
Ok, so Juarez might be the murder capital of the world but it is still the Mexican equivalent of Mir Ali. Monterrey, however, is not.
Monterrey is Mexico's third largest city and home to much of Mexican industry. Monterrey is Mexico's Kandahar or Pakistan's Peshawar. Incidents in Monterrey are of international interest.
Thus, when a dozen SUVs cordon of an entire district of the city and storm two hotels, including the Holiday Inn to abduct six people one would think it will make global news headlines. But no, the episode is either a footnote in a print newspaper or not mentioned at all.
If a similar event occurred in Yemen, Mali, Indonesia, Pakistan, Jordan or Afghanistan, then speculation about lack of central authority, collusion with Al-Qaeeda and a host of other matters will fill the international news ecosystem incessantly.  
Undoubtedly, the world is an unfair place. Like nations, individuals pick and choose their wars carefully. To fight the international media may be easier due to the advent of social media. However, let's not fool ourselves, until a war is adopted by the mainstream media it does not exist.
Everyone is familiar with the war taking place in the Pak-Afghan border but few hear about the war which takes place on the US-Mexican border.
There are public wars and there are private wars.

Maybe if the Am-Mex war seeps over onto the US mainland it will be more widely reported. Mexican drug barons are as feisty as Obama's warriors in defending their interests and there are no guarantees the Mexican war stays limited to Mexico.
Osama's original war was against the US troop presence in Saudi Arabia. Clearly, the war is no longer confined to Saudi Arabia. Read any newspaper.

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