Opinion

Ethnocentrism in the Mass Media: Why The Crisis in Sudan Is Silenced

Why have Western media outlets been so quiet about the crisis in Sudan, compared to their somewhat disproportionate reaction to the Notre Dame fire? Bethany Dawson explores the reason behind such disparities in media coverage.

By Bethany Dawson

If one was to discuss pressing current affairs now, mid June 2019, the first thing to come to mind might be the Conservative Leadership election, Brexit, Donald Trump’s latest tweet, or a surprisingly chilly start to the British summer; and most breaking news headlines currently reflect the importance attached to these events.

What the majority of mass-media outlets are failing to report on is the fast-developing and devastating crisis within Sudan wherein – at the time of writing – 114 people have been confirmed dead by the Sudanese Doctors’ Committee. Forty bodies have been found in the River Nile as a result of the violence of the Transitional Military Council – the newly formed body which was put in place to govern Sudan after the abdication of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir, toppled in April following months-long protests by political dissidents fighting for civilian rule in the country. These horrific events, now known as the Khartoum massacre, have included the brutal arrest, killing, and rape of innocent civilians.

Immediately after these events, the access to the internet and the media was cut by the Sudanese government in order to quell opportunities for political mobilisation by the masses, as well as to stop the spread of information about the current situation. Thus it must be understood that – to some extent – the journalistic access to information about Sudanese events is more limited in comparison to events characterised by the provision of consistent and accurate updates available at the dial of a phone call or the press of a button. However, that is not the only, or the main, reason for the limited reporting on such events. In contrast to this, when the Notre Dame Cathedral fire occured in April 2019, countless journalists flooded media platforms with constant updates on the disaster: details of the size, scale, and severity were reported to the public minute by minute. Why is the same level of journalistic fervour not being afforded to the crisis in Sudan?

The reason for the disparity in reporting between a burning building in Paris and the loss of lives, human rights, and safety in Sudan can be attributed to ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the concept that Western – predominantly white – issues of political or economic concern consistently take precedence within the mass media over issues in developing nations with non-white populations. This is unequivocally represented by the example of the overwhelming journalistic interest in Notre Dame, and the fact that the human rights atrocities on the 3rd of June – which consisted of attacks on sit-in protestors with live ammunition, teargas, whips and sticks – were largely ignored. 

To be informed of these events, one must do more than merely pick up a newspaper, have push-notifications on a news app, or follow news channels on social media. The blame for this inequality in reporting does not lie with individual journalists or reporters, but with institutionalised racism and ethnocentrism, which has notably led to an over-representation of white men within journalism, with British Journalism being comprised of 94% white people, 55% men, 89% middle class people, and with 51% of leading journalists and 80% of top editors from private schools. This lack of diversity in British journalism has also led to the agenda being significantly eurocentric and catering mostly to a white, middle class audience with sporting events, damaged landmarks, and elections – be they partisan, local, national, or supranational – being given journalistic priority over issues in less developed countries such as Sudan. 

So, what can we do to circumnavigate the ethnocentrism currently rife within the British –  and Western – mass media? Many people have taken to social media, where it is very easy to scroll through and contribute to the spread of sentiments of support and solidarity to the Sudanese people, whether that means changing one’s profile picture to a specific shade of blue or sharing content from pages pledging to donate meals to Sudanese children – despite the UNICEF communications specialist stating that sending food to the Sudanese people is “incredibly difficult”. Moreover, student media, and more amateur papers, allow for a more diverse pool of journalists who are encouraged to create spaces for new crucial conversations. Raising awareness for student journalism, such as the work done within Incite, is key to getting a plethora of people into journalism post-university.

Finally, be critical of journalists and journalism. Resist the temptation to settle with an angry message to a friend as your sole reaction to the ethnocentric state of the media. Instead, write what you want to see written. My previous article for Incite was an assessment of the response to the Notre Dame fire, and when it came to a discussion with a friend on why the events of Sudan are veritably ignored in comparison to the fire, it seemed wholly reductionist to not use the resources available to me to write the words I want to see written.

Bethany Dawson is a second year Politics and Sociology student at the University of Surrey.

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