Beirut vs. Paris: Unbalanced coverage
Journalism is about fair and objective reporting, but in practice coverage is often skewed toward one event more than another
The events of the Paris attacks last night are still unfolding–“still” being the operative word. Much journalistic attention has been given to the situation in Paris, and rightly so. At the time of writing, CBC reports stated that at least 150 people had been killed after six separate attacks in public places like a music venue in central Paris, two restaurants and outside a stadium.
It’s difficult, however, to avoid comparing the coverage of the Paris attacks to the coverage of the suicide bombs in Beirut on Thursday. The events were equally historical in their own right, as the Tweets below demonstrate, for they marked a drastic shift in the safety and security of the people of each respective capital city. Both, however, were not covered equally.
Day of mourning in Lebanon after 43 people killed in two suicide bombings in Beirut yesterday. Worst incident since civil ended war in 1990.
— CBC World Report (@CBCWorldReport) November 13, 2015
A city-wide curfew is now in place in #Paris for the first time since 1944.
— CP24 (@CP24) November 13, 2015
The Paris attacks have been extensively reported on a minute-by-minute basis as reporters took to the ground to find the facts and share them in an efficient manner. All the main journalism organizations in Canada had updated versions of their articles, a timeline of the events, a map of where the attacks were happening as they unfolded, an article with pictures and videos and a social media reaction article. News outlet reports were also supplemented by the individual coverage shared, reported and commented on by Canadian journalists on Twitter.
Comparatively, when the Beirut attacks unfolded on Thursday, the same journalism organizations carried an Associated Press article supplemented by Reuters images and video. Little else was seen on Twitter in terms of additional reporting or coverage.
While understanding that logistical and resource-based strains limit the coverage of international reporting in an industry continuously tightening its belt, there are questions to be asked about the decision to cover some events extensively while leaving the coverage of others lacking. There are rationales to consider, of course. France is a country more historically and culturally tied to Canada’s population than Beirut, thus perhaps justifying more in-depth coverage.
This, however, conflicts with the journalistic practice of fair and objective reporting that the industry is founded on. If journalism is meant to bring to attention the realities of such events and the impacts they have, what deems one attack more worthy of attention than the other?
In the face of the Paris attacks, journalism organizations seem to have forgotten about Beirut. It’s yesterday’s news, except that it’s also news that wasn’t properly covered when it happened. As my fellow blog editor, Davide Mastracci, noted in his previous post, several headlines on the Beirut attack incorrectly illustrated the conflict on the ground.
Beirut and Paris weren’t very different. Both were attacks on capital cities that affected innocent residents in public places. Both saw the city come to a standstill and a shutdown. Yet in examining the news coverage, there is a glaring imbalance that doesn’t make this similarity very obvious. In a country like Canada that prides itself on its multiculturalism and continues to be home to communities from places across the world, including Beirut, Paris, Baghdad and Japan–the four places that faced some sort of serious devastation yesterday–balanced all-around coverage seems all the more pertinent.
This inherent, perhaps implicit, perhaps natural bias is something journalists need to recognize in the mirror and deal with. If journalism frames the narrative about these events, the onus is on journalists to do so responsibly and fairly.
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by Fatima Syed
Fatima Syed is the blog editor of the spring 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.