‘Our’ Tragedies vs ‘Their’ Tragedies

If we examine the media coverage of the Victorian bushfires occuring in Australia at the moment, then it would appear that Australian lives are more valuable than the lives of people who don’t live here.

The current situation is awful with over 100 people having lost their lives so far, with many more losing pets, houses and possessions. Many families have lost loved ones and have nowhere to go. That this deserves attention is without question.

What I do question is why this emergency, another ‘crisis’ for the year, receives more  around the clock coverage- graced by morning shows Sunrise and Today anchors rushing to the site, regular updates and interviews etc- than other stories where people suffer?

Human-made, hence preventable, devastation is occurring across the globe every day. Hundred’s have died in Iraq each day, homes destroyed, an atmosphere of terror in air, for over the last 5+ years with no end in site. Families that are broken, mourning, horror at homes that have been burnt to a crisp- not by nature, but by bombs.

Palestine has suffered since 1948, including the 1300 people recently killed in 22 Days from Israel‘s attacks, adding to the long term hopelessness. The images from Victoria resemble the recent images from Gaza, with families crying with anguish, sifting through the rubble of their homes, wondering ‘how will I continue on?’ as loved ones are assumed dead.

While Prime Minister Rudd has spoken compassionately about Victoria’s loss, meeting families, reflecting real human concern for their loss, when it comes to Australia’s involvement in continuing such suffering against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, or its tacit support for Israel, then PM Rudd has no tears, no humanity that reaches past political beliefs. Why? Isn’t a life a life? Isn’t one just as valuable as another? Surely something so imagined as a national border, or national affinity, could limit our compassion and empathy, our outrage and desire to help?

So where do such differences in reaction, in coverage come from?

News is big business for most outlets, it brings in viewers, and helps sell advertising space. Local stories are easier to report, easier to retell the narratives that viewers react and relate to. Politically, natural disasters provide politically-neutral ways of showing voters your human side, your leadership abilities without such annoying issues as morality and legality that come with war made destruction. This leads us to only ever worry about what happens within our borders, creating an unconcern for others, for ‘The Other’. Sadly, it seems the news media thinks compassion stretches only to other white faces, who tell their stories in our language, whose stories are similar. Surely this highlights our need to extend our considerations and emotional geography, so we can question our actions; our compassion; our news; when it’s based solely on location, culture or language.

Continued media coverage allows us to understand the tragedy in more human terms, rather than numbers flashed in a 30sec report in the evening? It compels us to write notes, letters, to volunteer or take to the streets about such suffering.

I wonder if we understood the suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine in such immediate and involved ways if we’d be as complacent about our involvement in the suffering of such countries?

We can’t have that now can we?

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