Monday, January 19, 2015
Media, #jesuisCharlie and Boko Haram: a False Indictment?
While the world still rages about the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris one argument I find particularly irksome is the moaning of a perceived comparative lack of Boko Haram coverage. The intention of this argument is certainly understandable, but in this case is it valid?
I lived in Paris right by the little secured Charlie Hebdo building, read Charlie Hebdo growing up, and I also traveled to northern Nigeria to cover "Boko Haram" violence, so I have some personal perspective in this matter. I put quotation marks as Boko Haram is not a name the disparate group of criminals and religious extremists gave to themselves, but one given to them by victims and outsiders. My reporting of Boko Haram, and my frustration with editors who never went to northern Nigeria, is one of the reasons I stopped day to day journalism. Specifically because they treated the story as so distant to themselves and their own realities.
One recurring argument which has come up in the Charlie Hebdo vs. Boko Haram media dialectic, and which sadly is as old as the sun and moon, is that one death somewhere does not equal one death elsewhere. While this is regrettably true, it does follow the current economics of journalism, the choices editors make based on their readership and own worldview, and the increasingly prohibitive cost of public service journalism. Going to northern Nigeria is extremely costly.
Selling editors on another grim Boko Haram story is extremely difficult even for journalists financed by more expansive state media. Due to bad Internet in most of the remote areas Boko Haram takes over or runs over with violence, there is also very little citizen journalism documenting these recurring massacres. This is not true of the Paris story, where journalists swarm, and the narrative to explore was somewhat new: jihadists assassinating the most extreme practioners of the ethos of Voltaire, followed by the targeted killing of increasingly scared Jews in a supermarket, followed by an around the clock coverage of a helter skelter police operation resulting in more deaths.
To the readers lamenting the lack of Boko Haram coverage, several things can be said. Fine tune your social media feeds and timelines so that those stories do appear. Use your google news and search Boko Haram. Subscribe to sources which care about issues which resonate with your own worldview. In these times of hyperinformation, why should you not be responsible for what appears on your smartphones and tablets? While stories on Boko Haram are sometimes few and far in between, they do exist.
Outrage with no action beyond posting, sharing or liking is vacuous. If you really do care, go yourself to investigate and become a freelance journalist, or start a charity in Boko Haram affected areas. Complain less and help more. Act on your outrage in ways that matter and make the world a better place. We are all responsible for the world we live in and the available media that are out there. And if Charlie Hebdo bothers you, read something else.