Irma versus Burma: What Gets Covered?

Irma versus Burma

Lately, the news has been inundated with natural disasters, one after another. I won’t bother to list them all here now, as I’m sure you’re familiar with them, but many of us in the U.S. have been personally affected by them or know someone who has been.

It’s all very sad. It’s heartbreaking. It’s even overwhelming. Sometimes, we shut the TV off because we can only listen to so many death tallies or dollars in damages. It’s a normal reaction, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Still, I’ve wondered how the media chooses what to cover, when, and how extensively.

For instance, do we really need 24-hour nationwide coverage on Hurricane Irma, as though there’s nothing else to report on? Of course, for the people of Florida, these reports are relevant, critical, and potentially life-saving. But for me in Houston, I don’t need to watch the storm as closely. Sure, I’ll check up on it periodically to see where it’s headed and who it’s impacted so far. I’ll check in with my family members and friends in Florida – of which I have many – to get a better idea of whether or not they are or will be affected by the storm.

The best part of all this? I don’t even need to watch the live news broadcasts to get this information. It’s all online. Whenever I need it. It’s there in news articles, and it’s there in posted videos, previously recorded and live streamed.

In the meantime, there’s genocide in Myanmar, and its Nobel Peace Prize-winning state counselor is doing nothing about it.

People are being displaced and killed by the thousands, but that’s not more important than up-to-the-minute updates on a storm.

I don’t mean to diminish the importance and impact of these natural disasters. Having recently experienced Hurricane Harvey, I know how devastating they can be to peoples’ lives and to a city. Now, comparatively to Florida, the Caribbean, and Mexico, Houston’s actually in pretty decent shape. Also, I understand that local news is generally more important than international, or at least it’s what more people care about.

And when people care about it, news stations report on it because that’s where the ratings are. I’m not entirely blaming them for this, by the way. They’ve got a business to run.

After all, how can you possibly relate to thousands of persecuted Rohingya in Asia?

How can you comprehend what it means to be kicked out of your home with nowhere to go? What God-given level of empathy would you have to possess in order to truly feel the plight of the persecuted?

It’s generally hard to get people to care about an issue that isn’t directly and currently affecting them. You guys watch Game of Thrones? How long had Jon Snow been going on about the White Walkers before anyone took him seriously? And remember what lengths he had to go to just to get a little buy-in from King’s Landing?

Myanmar is just one example of this, though. The newly proposed healthcare bill could use some more news coverage, especially since no one knows what the hell is in it, but it’ll affect all of us if it’s passed. New Zealand is on the lookout for a tsunami. North Korea is a volatile situation that’s not being made any less volatile by our president.

Etc., etc.

Speaking of President Trump, remember when he tweeted actual gibberish and it was all anyone talked about for a few days? “Covfefe,” whatever that is, shook our nation. Unfortunately, this wasn’t unusual. Now, every time he decides to say or tweet something, regardless of how ridiculous, irrelevant, or nonsensical it is, it garners bigger headlines than whatever the more pressing news stories are.

This is largely because people click to see the latest bit of nonsense coming out of Washington because it makes them laugh, and because it’s less depressing than reading about thousands of people dying in some country that most people can’t point to on a map. Also, he’s the president of our country, so whatever he says and does is “newsworthy,” whether or not it should be.

All of that said, there is never a shortage of news that needs to be reported, and one story is not necessarily more or less important than another.

So, is it truly a matter of ratings? Or perhaps media bias? Or maybe there’s a government conspiracy to censor our news media?

Is it all of the above? Who knows.

But maybe there’s a way to find balance in the media.

The purpose of the news is to report, though it’s constantly under scrutiny for swaying to one side more than the other. Honestly, I don’t mind that too much, in the sense that it offers different perspectives and reactions to stories. Of course, it can also be brainwashing (no big deal, right?), so we’ve got to be able to discern the facts of the story from the opinions presented. Can we look past the snark and the outrage to truly process what’s going on? Should we even have to?

In the case of something like the genocide in Myanmar, I imagine it’s harder to report on than it appears. For one, we don’t have many American reporters on the ground there, whereas when Hurricane Irma hit, everyone was in Florida. Even Lester Holt came out from behind his anchor desk to get in on the action.

What’s more of a hindrance to reporting a genocide, though, is the fact that humans cannot actually comprehend large numbers when it comes to suffering and death. It starts to feel like a list of stats – cold and unfeeling, detached from actual reality. It’s reminiscent of reading a history textbook and learning about terrible things that happened somewhere someday – things we never actually had to worry about, let alone do anything about. The heart can’t possibly feel grief for each individual included in the numbers because we don’t know any of them on a deep, personal level. We don’t love them. We’re not there to witness their suffering or experience it for ourselves. Actually, in our cushy homes and cushy jobs, we tend to underestimate the poverty that much of the world lives in.

So instead, people will turn off the news reports. They’ll get annoyed, even. They’ll complain that there’s nothing they can do about it, even if they wanted to. They’ll assert that what’s going on across the globe does not affect them.

However, to make an incredibly basic and generalized analogy, our global vibration is slowing. Our planet is sick. You cannot heal a disease by spot-treating some symptoms and ignoring others.

No one said it’d be easy.

It’s incredibly difficult to cultivate compassion – and then action – on a large scale.

So, even if there’s nothing you can personally and directly do about a genocide on the other side of the world, or even an injustice down the street from you, you can still affect change. You can donate to charities that assist victims, which is just as important as preventing future victims. Of course, do your research before just handing your money out. Not all charities are as charitable as you’d hope them to be.

At the very least, nothing is lost in obtaining and spreading knowledge. No information goes to waste – not even trigonometry, I’m sure. Education is the single most important defense we have against ignorance, and ignorance must be acknowledged and dealt with. It breeds hate and distrust, and it perpetuates close-mindedness. It exacerbates fears and erects borders. It divides us all in disdain, rather than uniting us in appreciation. It obstructs momentum and progress.

So, protest. Share articles. Actually talk to people. Write and call your Congressional leaders. Or get out there and help where you can.

We all live such diverse lives. Our backgrounds are varied, but we can usually find some bond of commonality between two people. Throughout all of this, it’s important to remain humble and remember that we all have something to learn from one another.

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