Media Coverage of Terrorism


This was in my Facebook feed courtesy of Boing Boing this morning. Not a surprise, since I had a discussion with a FB friend named Keenan Robert last week after posting a story about why weren’t the other terrorist acts in  Turkey and Cote d’Ivoire covered as much. As one person snarkily put it, “#PrayForCotedIvoire is just not snappy enough.”

One can assume that there is a bias to the editorial decisions made regarding what to cover based on the perception of the market, what the readers’ interests and knowledge bases are, the local culture that supports or better yet, demands coverage of foreign affairs. These are part of the political economy of news production and mapping these biases is difficult but it is being tried – Why It’s Hard to Map Media Coverage.

Yet the figure articulates a different message, one not totally centered on the media coverage. Western, developed countries that are US allies are of prime concern to the public when tragedies like bombings and natural disasters occur. Would it matter if the Brussels bombing and the Ankara attack occurred on the same day? Unlikely, as Brussels will still garner more shock and concern that the other NATO member could engender. The second tier of concern strikes me as odd. India as equivalent to anywhere in South America (save Guyana, Surname and French Guiana), along with Egypt, South Africa and most of Eastern Europe? There might be a connection from immigration streams but that is doubtful since East European migration pales in comparison to India.

Lumping China, the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia together? At first glance, it makes sense. Three countries that have been portrayed as allies at different times only to be found wanting in some way in the eyes of the American foreign policy establishment, for good reason) and now are often seen as threats with media coverage making the case.

Central Asia, parts of South Asia. and Southeast Asia in blue is an odd comparison. Americans have some recent connections to Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan but not to Southeast Asia in the same way. Cartographic laziness? Africa south of the Sahara is given a special phrase to relay a sense of who cares, basically no one. One might believe the violence of the region seems endemic and unsurmountable preclude investing in caring.

Understanding media coverage of the globe is important as it frames what we care about, setting agendas that are never neutral in nature. The figure above only discloses our hidden mental maps.



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