The shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office on Jan. 7, much like 9/11, bombarded the front pages. Yet, the Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria, during the same time, failed to raise similar media attention.
Beginning with a seizure of a military base on Jan. 3, the militant group Boko Haram attacked the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga in what Amnesty International called in a press statement the “deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group.”
The Amnesty report states that hundreds – and possibly reaching over 2,000 – civilians were killed by the group in Baga and surrounding areas throughout the week. Released satellite pictures show immense devastation to the area but numbers are debated, with the Nigerian government stating 150 deaths.
John Tackaverry, media relations for Amnesty International Canada, says one factor for deciding what issues to cover is that ongoing conflicts often do not receive the same amount of attention in the media when an anomaly like the Charlie Hebdo attack happens.
Another factor for diminished attention is that “information is disseminated in the world, in the media, based upon ease of access to information about the incidents,” said Tackaverry.
Jason Warick, reporter at the StarPhoenix, agrees. “(The) reality is that Boko Haram has been killing large numbers of people for quite a long time and there’s been an unspoken war in that country for a long time,” he said.
Warick said even more people are dying of malaria in Africa and “it’s quite arbitrary to try and pick the things that are most important.”
David McGuffin, CBC’s Africa correspondent from 2008 to 2010, said limited resources and funding cuts “hurts the ability of Canadians ultimately to understand what’s going on.” CBC’s Africa bureau was cut in 2012.
McGuffin, now a senior editor on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, said when mainstream media takes a “fireman approach,” sending reporters into a region for just a few days, it gives a sense to the public that the Boko Haram massacre “is a forgotten conflict and probably (only) to the detriment of the people living through it.”
Robert Biezenski, instructor of sociology at the University of Regina, said certain media isn’t covering many issues in Africa, Latin America, and Asia for different reasons: western political interests.
“It’s not a blind spot; it’s not just that that they can’t see. It is quite deliberate,” said Biezenski.
Biezenski explained that media in western countries give attention to stories like Charlie Hebdo because of their political allies. “Thousands of people are killed every single year (in Latin America) and we’re lucky if it even makes the back page of the papers in the West, let alone the front page,” he said.
Financial resources, dangerous conditions, the diminishing number of hands on deck, and political interests may all be factors to in deciding what issues to cover. What remains for McGuffin, however, is that Charlie Hebdo is an important story that deserves coverage.
“I’m lucky in that I’ve worked for two organizations that spend money on reporting, that actually spend money sending journalists into places that are difficult and they are willing to wait for that story to come out. They are willing to spend money to take the time to get the story right.”