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Study: U.S. Media Overlooked Major
Humanitarian Stories in 2006
Last year millions of people in many countries lost their lives
as a result of wars, violence, disease, and hunger, yet the
major television networks in the United States did not tell
their stories to the U.S. public, a new study on media coverage
The staggering human toll taken by tuberculosis (TB) and
malnutrition as well as the devastation caused by wars in the
Central African Republic, Sri Lanka, and the Democratic Republic
of Congo were almost completely ignored by the leading
television networks, according to a well-respected medical aid
group that monitors media coverage on humanitarian issues at the
end of each year.
In its annual report for 2006, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF),
also known as Doctors Without Borders, said it found very little
or no coverage by the top three networks of the human suffering
caused by ongoing armed conflicts in Haiti, Somalia, Colombia,
Chechnya, and central India.
In a bid to highlight the questionable role of the networks in
covering global affairs, the group has released a list of what
it calls the "Top Ten" most underreported stories of 2006.
"Many conflicts worldwide are profoundly affecting millions of
people, yet they are almost completely invisible," said Nicolas
de Torrente, executive director of the group's U.S. chapter.
"Haiti, for example, is just 50 miles from the United States
[but]...relentless violence in its volatile capital
Port-au-Prince received only half a minute of network coverage
in an entire year."
The ten countries and issues highlighted by MSF accounted for
just 7.2 of the 14,512 minutes the three major television
networks devoted to their nightly newscasts in 2006, said Andrew
Tyndall, publisher of The Tyndall Report, an online media
The ABC, CBS, and NBC networks did report on malnutrition, TB,
and Chechnya, Tyndall said, "but only very briefly in other
stories." They also completely ignored five of countries
mentioned in the MSF list of underreported stories.
In its report, MSF, which provides emergency medical aid in more
than 70 countries, said the worldwide TB situation has become
"frightening" and that it became "even worse" in 2006 with the
detection of a strain that is resistant to both first-line
antibiotics and to two classes of second-line drugs.
Researchers working with the group said they were worried about
the situation because none of the TB drugs currently in
development seemed likely to improve TB treatment in the near
Worldwide, around 2 million deaths are believed to be caused by
TB every year.
In addition to TB, each year millions of children in poor
countries die due to severe lack of food. MSF said the use of
therapeutic foods, like the milk-and-peanut-butter paste
Plumpy'nut, could save many lives, but such treatment is not
being widely used.
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In the past
two years, with this method MSF has treated more than 150,000
children in Niger, de Torrente said, adding that the new treatment
strategies could save millions of lives throughout the world.
He said nutritional emergencies were not only the products of wars
and conflicts, as many seemed to believe, but also poverty, noting
that massive malnutrition existed in many politically stable
countries where "insistence on addressing long-term development
issues has come at the expense of meeting immediate needs."
Noting that continued armed conflicts in more than a dozen
countries around the world resulted in massive loss of human life
and destruction of resources, the MSF researchers described the
media coverage as disappointing.
In their view, while the conflicts in the Darfur region of Sudan
and eastern Chad garnered significant media attention last year,
the steady focus did not translate into improved conditions for
people caught up in the violence.
"Even though there was more reporting on Darfur than about other
crises," according to de Torrente, "the situation continued to
deteriorate to the point where MSF and other aid groups had to
scale back their programs."
"We know that media coverage does not generate improvements on its
own," he said. "However, it is often a precondition for increased
assistance and political attention. There is perhaps nothing worse
than being completely neglected and forgotten."