What makes a suicide bombing in, say, Western Europe, more worthy of media coverage than a similar attack in Nigeria, Turkey or Pakistan? Is there any answer to that question that editors can give without admitting that they consider white Western lives to be more valuable than brown foreign ones?
Will Gore, deputy managing editor of the Independent, had a pretty good stab at it this week in the wake of the bombings in Brussels, that occupied front pages for days, and the far deadlier one in Lahore that, while widely reported on, received comparatively less attention in the international press.
Mr. Gore suggests the reason Brussels received greater attention in the press is not because editors, and the readers whose interests they ultimately respond to, are racially or religiously biased in favour of people who look and pray like them. Rather the overriding factor is fear.
"People in this country [the UK] are appalled by terror attacks in Turkey (or Pakistan or Mali or Burkina Faso); but are much more likely to be scared by what they see in a familiar-feeling Western capital - if it can happen there, it can happen here," Mr. Gore writes. "The solidarity shown in the aftermath of massacres in France and Belgium is as much a coping mechanism to deal with this fear as it is a simple expression of sympathy for the loss of strangers' lives. But if this is so, shouldn't the media challenge such psychological stasis? Up to a point perhaps... [but] isn't a triple suicide-bombing in the capital of Belgium more surprising than a terrorist attack in Turkey? Not more appalling, not more deadly, not more grotesque; but more unexpected and unpredictable? Surely it is... Therefore, if last week's attacks in Brussels received more coverage across the British-based media than acts of terrorism elsewhere it is for rational reasons."
Mr. Gore makes some compelling points. Having witnessed the aftermath of the London bombings firsthand outside a stricken King's Cross station on July 7, 2005, I certainly understand that fear. But in suggesting attacks in countries frequently plagued by terrorism are less newsworthy because they are more routine and have fewer lessons to teach us about our own safety, Mr. Gore does not account for the widespread coverage given to school shootings in America. Such tragedies are all too routine, and, mercifully, have little to teach a British readership that has not known a school shooting since handguns were banned in the wake of 1996's Dunblane massacre. Yet we are more likely to read about a man wandering into an American school with a gun than the frequent Taliban-linked attacks in Pakistan. Do such incidents get more coverage because Western European audiences are more interested in tragedies that happen in the culturally similar US, than in equally distant but far more foreign Pakistan? I suspect they probably do.
But while terrorist attacks are an almost weekly occurrence in Pakistan, Easter Sunday's atrocities, in which 72 people were killed and at least 280 injured, many of them children enjoying a funfair, are so shocking in their scale and brutality that they deserve to be front page news. And just as we covered November's Paris attacks and October's Ankara bombings on our front page at The World Weekly, so too did we feature Easter's atrocities in Lahore on our cover.
Mein Lahore hoon!