The Australian public and media experts have expressed concern about disproportionate media coverage and public sympathy towards recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut.
A Google search on the Beirut suicide bombings of November 12 found 5190 English language hits, against 2.5 million hits for the Paris attacks, one day later, and their aftermath. Many Facebook users changed their profile pictures to show the French flag, in support and sympathy for the Western nation. The Beirut tragedy was not accorded the same respect and concern.
Thought Catalog writer Shuyin Yeo commented that such disparity in concern was inappropriate, especially in Australia given its largely multicultural society. (ABS figures from the 2011 census show almost 500,000 Muslims live in Australia, of whom 30 per cent are Australian-born of Lebanese ancestry.)
“The overwhelming response questioning the hypocrisy of Western media and its solidarity with Paris is valid when you consider countries like Australia, with a massive Lebanese-Australian community that distinctly lacked any compassion for the Lebanese victims,” Yeo wrote.
Chewie Stevenson, a resident of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, is one of the Facebook users who adopted the French flag profile photo meme. He told The Newsroom he did so to show his support for the French community and said he would have done the same for the Lebanese community had he been aware of the Beirut attacks.
“I was unaware of the Beirut attack,” Mr Stevenson said. “I just haven’t seen it in the news as much as France has been. I think things happening in France are a little bit scarier for me personally because it’s such a well renowned city and being in Sydney makes you wonder when something like this will happen here.
“I’m sure a lot of the Australian public care less for Lebanon as they would tend to associate them with unfavourable things or groups.”
James Brickwood, another resident of the Northern Beaches didn’t go along with the masses, deciding to instead post an edited version of his profile picture with a wash of the Lebanese flag.
“I just shared (his edited profile picture) to highlight that Paris wasn’t the only city attacked over the weekend. I don’t have a problem so much that people changed their profile to a flag. I just don’t know what people expect to achieve with it. It’s not as inclusive as it suggests,” Mr Brickwood said.
He attributed the disproportionate coverage of both attacks to the media’s focus on ratings and its audience’s initial reaction to a story.
“Grief is felt, not shown. I don’t think people have chosen not to grieve for those affected by attacks in Beirut, but the grief for Paris was greater… Australians weren’t as interested and so the issue fell off the radar much quicker… [The media’s] revenue streams are much more closely tied to popularism than what’s straight up newsworthy, “ he told The Newsroom.
He suggested the public’s apathy for Beirut reflected Australia’s affinity with other Western cultures, saying that most Australians were much more familiar with France and associated Lebanon with other war-torn countries in the Middle-East.
“There is some truth though that the grief felt is greater for Paris seeing as it’s a Western city with more common social structures than we share in the Middle East,” he said.
“We perhaps can relate more. More Australians have holidayed in Paris than Beirut as well… It’s sadly become expected for Middle Eastern countries to be caught up in terrorism, rather than the West.”
A vox pop conducted on Sydney streets by The Newsroom confirmed the mixed understanding of the issues, and equally mixed responses.
Author and journalist Monica Attard is one of the high-profile media figures who have commented on the disparity in responses.
Ms Attard echoed Mr Brickwood’s feeling that the marginal media coverage and sympathy for Beirut was in part explained by the public’s familiarity with such events occurring in the Middle East.
“Lebanon is right next door to Syria. It has been riddled with violence…People are accustomed to hearing about deaths and violence in those parts of the world, whereas we’re not when it comes to mainland Europe,” she told The Newsroom.
Rocky Hellway, a Sydney resident, told The Newsroom that as someone with Lebanese ancestry he was appalled by the disproportionate public show of empathy, and blamed the media’s “dangerous” portrayal of Arab cultures.
“Why show compassion and grief for one nation more than the other. It doesn’t make sense. Is the life of an Arab considered less valuable than that of a European?” he asked.
“Culturally speaking, people don’t understand the complexity of Arab culture and the Islamic faith… The media portrays it as dangerous and fearmongering… So, people find it so easy to vilify a group of people because they don’t follow the same customs and values of another people(s).
Ms Attard also recognised that media do place more value on some nations than others, pointing to the cynical acknowledgement in media circles that “there are some lives that are simply worth more news space than other lives”. – Reported and presented by Sophia Rambaldini; video produced by Ra’Eesah Lillah and Greta Levy