The Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram stole the international spotlight last year when it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, prompting the united rallying cry “Bring Back Our Girls.” This past January, Boko Haram launched another brutal offense by raiding Baga and other surrounding villages, causing the deaths of 2000 civilians. You may not have heard as much about this incident as it was overshadowed by reports of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, which killed twelve in Paris on January 7.
Why did a tragedy that claimed 160 times the death toll than the Hebdo tragedy not receive proper coverage? Western media is biased. There is a clear double standard when it comes to reporting on Western and non-Western news. This perpetuates the mystique of the “Other” and prevents us from engaging with the issues that humanity is dealing with in a different part of the world. The attack on free speech most probably struck a chord with Western media in that its line of work was punished. The tragedy of Charlie Hebdo is something that we rightfully mourn, but it should not be at the expense of another distressing event occurring in a different part of the world or at the expense of an entire religion.
We do not need to know about Nigeria because its people are not in the U.S. national interest. We do not need to know about Nigeria because anything outside the Western world is unimportant. We do not need to know about Nigeria because Nigeria needs to deal with its own problems.
Some people feel there is no need for the United States to intervene in an issue that is Nigeria’s problem. But since when has the U.S. shied away from interfering in international conflicts? Western media could have reported more extensively on this issue. Troops from Chad have already joined the fight, demonstrating not only an intensification of the conflict but also that Boko Haram is now a regional threat. The escalation of violence is evidence that the current pattern of offense against Boko Haram is not working. Nigeria is at fault for failing to take on Boko Haram and protect its citizens. Its weak and ineffective government refused to address the attack in its own country. However, the United States, as a nation familiar with dealing with terrorist groups, should be more sympathetic and distraught with the violence exemplified by Boko Haram. If an entire region cannot combat the militant group, the cooperation and collaboration of several regional powers will be necessary.
The preservation of human life should be esteemed just as much if not more than the preservation of freedom of speech. The United States not only condemned the Paris attack but also encouraged citizens to support France as an act of group cohesion — which ultimately helped distract from the act of aggression in Nigeria.
Media coverage is important because it creates awareness by bringing attention to issues around the world. Keeping informed is also an important civic responsibility. Receiving information and determining what is significant and accurate is necessary for citizens to support their democracy. Thus, when news is reported, proper respect must be given to each story. Without challenging our knowledge, we will not be able to change for the better. I agree that freedom of speech is a necessary tool for societies to inform, discuss and inspire. But it is time for the Western media to take responsibility as a member of the global community, instead of reveling in its regional power.