Ukraine’s pain… and media bias in its reportage

As we wind up this issue of Rotary News, the war in Ukraine continues to rage; its cities are bombed, and people’s homes and offices reduced to rubble. Overnight, just in the flash of an eye, thousands of people have been rendered homeless. Those who’ve managed to get out of the country, live on as refugees in neighbouring countries. Our world is no stranger to any kind of pain, devastation, trauma and incarceration caused by conflicts. The two world wars happened in the previous century; but the devastation caused, particularly by World War II, continues to haunt us… through museums with evidence of the horrors of the holocaust of Jews by Hitler’s regime, through books, documentaries, movies and now multi-season serials on OTT platforms.

More recently, we’ve seen bombings in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan; and before that, the wars in Iran and Iraq. Some of these, once proud and prosperous nations, have been turned into international beggars, slapped with international sanctions, with their citizens fleeing their homes. Often, the desperate search for a safe haven has resulted in women and children ending up being trafficked. Or, overloaded boats carrying people to European coasts sinking to watery graves. How long will it take for our minds and hearts to erase the heart-breaking image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi from Syria, dressed in a bright red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the sand and surf, near Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum? There was no question of any kind soul giving him, or his five-year-old brother, food and shelter. Because they were already dead. That was in 2015.

Closer to date, we saw the images of Afghans, particularly women, tearing at the wired fences at the Kabul airport, in desperate, and unsuccessful, attempts to escape from their homeland, because their tormentors, the Taliban were back in power.

So much of strife, conflict and greed for power and hegemony rule our world. Yes, our hearts go out to Ukrainians fleeing their country to neighbouring countries, and this issue describes the commendable work Ukraine’s Rotarians, and Rotaractors, helped by contributions from the rest of the Rotary world, are doing to help them. May their tribe increase, as we pray that soon this terrible conflict is resolved and they are able to return to their homes.

But we cannot remain blind to the two different sets of values with which some western journalists have been commenting on the horrific attacks on Ukraine. It was in utter horror that I watched clips of TV anchors telling the tragic story of Ukrainians fleeing their homeland; a real shocker was one of the world’s most reputed media outlet’s reporter saying: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed with Putin’s missiles.” Said another, “We are in the 21st century, we are in a European city and we have cruise missile fire as though we were in Iraq or Afghanistan, can you imagine!”

Not surprisingly, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association asked western media organisations to refrain from such “racism” and bias in their coverage, and avoid commenting on the Caucasian race or better economic status of the victims of this attack, contrasting them with people from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

A human life is a human life. That’s non-negotiable.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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