Friday, June 02, 2006

Third World Newspaper Coverage Remains Spotty

Time magazine this week devotes several pages--a story and a photographic essay--to what it calls "The Deadliest War In The World." The article, by Simon Robinson and Vivienne Walt, is about the war in the Congo, the former Belgian Congo, where it estimates 1,250 people are dying each day from war-related causes, and the war was supposed to have ended three years ago.

It is a rare look at continued horrific conditions in one of Africa's largest countries. Even the New York Times, it seems, seldom ventures into this country of 63 million.

The NYT has an excellent East African correspondent in Marc Lacey, who has come a long way in experience since he was a young Los Angeles Times reporter based in Los Angeles. Lacey bravely travels to such hellholes as Somalia and the Dar fur region of the Sudan on newsgathering missions, and he had a terrific article not long ago on corruption in the country where he is resident, Kenya. But he is stretched almost to the breaking point. Some places, like Mogadishu, Somalia, where the U.S. is backing warlords against al-Qaeda wannabees in a bloody round of battles, are just too dangerous for him to go. He recently wrote from a town 50 miles away.

Brian Williams, the anchor on NBC Nightly News, just a short time ago accompanied Bono for three days on one of his trips to West Africa. The images that appeared on the Nightly News were fascinating, providing a rare look at life as it is in a part of the world which is scarcely covered by Western media.

But again this is only scratching the surface.

The fact is that American readers and watchers are afforded little opportunity to appreciate what is happening in most of the world.

The L.A. Times has some African coverage, and it has an excellent reporter in Indonesia in Rick Paddock, but he is usually preoccupied with terrorism and natural disasters, which often occur there.

When something truly catastrophic happens, such as the South Asian tsunami, the Third World gets attention. Not only reporters but former U.S. presidents and an American aircraft carrier show up. Barry Bearak did an outstanding article for the New York Times magazine on the tsunami's impact on the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh.

But most of the time, there is more coverage of events in Israel than in the whole Third World combined. I say this not in criticism of the Israeli coverage, since the Holy Land is the justified focus of worldwide attention. But it is striking how much of the world is subject to little coverage.

It goes without saying that Third World coverage is expensive, and often dangerous.

But what there is is often of the adventure variety. Jonathan Randal, for a long time the New York Times reporter in West Africa, used to refer to WAWA, to describe the area he covered, standing for West Africa Wins Again. The point of this name was that the region is truly hopeless and little can be done.

I'm not sure that it's really true that little can be done. In our lifetimes, we've seen tremendous change and economic progress in China, India and some other countries, when it had long seemed those countries would never escape total squalor.

So maybe if there were more coverage in Africa, focusing the world's attention more there, there would be more aid and more progress even in places like the Congo.

But for the time being, as the Time article shows, the Congo is little less chaotic than than it was when Joseph Conrad wrote "Heart of Darkness."

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