Media's Indifference to Afghan Crisis: Why Is the Mainstream Media Ignoring the Mass Death of Afghan Civilians? (How Media Creates Enemies)

By Edwards, David | Women in Action, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Media's Indifference to Afghan Crisis: Why Is the Mainstream Media Ignoring the Mass Death of Afghan Civilians? (How Media Creates Enemies)


Edwards, David, Women in Action


It is a long-standing tradition of free-press reporting to glare intensely at atrocities committed by `them' while flashing the briefest of glances at atrocities committed by `us.' Cognitive dissonance is a necessary feature of this kind of reporting, as when the world's richest country resolves to bomb the world's poorest country as part of a `war for civilisation.'

For much of the media, the war in Afghanistan ended with the fall of Kabul on 13 November 2001. As usual, the reporting was focused on the hideous crimes of others, and on our need to destroy the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. With the goal (partially) achieved, journalists declared another glorious humanitarian victory and moved on. Suddenly, the war in Afghanistan was yesterday's news, although not for the civilians killed in the continuing bombardment. A different story-the price of our `victory' for the people of Afghanistan--threatened to turn the spotlight on our crimes. So, this was ignored by our media, in accordance with long-standing tradition. The sheer scan of what has been so casually passed over is extraordinary.

A careful reader of the press might discover that Afghan casualties of the bombing now exceed the loss of life on 11 September. But this `collateral damage' represents a small fraction of the total horror inflicted on Afghanistan. On 16 September, the press reported that the U.S. government had demanded that Pakistan stop the truck convoys of food on which much of the already starving Afghan population depended. In late September, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation warned that more than seven million people were facing a crisis that could lead to widespread starvation if military action were initiated. There would be `humanitarian catastrophe' unless aid was immediately resumed and the threat of military action terminated. Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid warned: "It's as if a mass grave has been dug behind millions of people. We can drag them back from it or push them in. We could be looking at millions of deaths." (1)

It is interesting to imagine a coalition launching an attack to root out terrorism in, say, France, on the understanding that some seven million French civilians might lose their lives as a result. Remarkably, though the media communicated these aid agency's warnings of impending mass death, and the need to pause bombing before the snows came, the story simply disappeared.

How many did die when the snows came? How many of the seven million were "pushed" into the mass grave? Certainly our government--the `moral crusaders' of Kosovo--showed no interest in raising such questions, for obvious reasons. Likewise, the fate of millions of innocents imperilled by state policy has been a matter of supreme indifference to our media. We can gain a sense of the moral health of our democracy from the minimal coverage that has emerged.

On 3 January, in a small article on page 14, The Guardian reported conditions facing 350,000 Afghan refugees in the Maslakh camp, 30 miles west of Herat city. Doug McKinlay described how 100 refugees were dying every day of exposure and starvation (a disaster on the scale of 11 September every month). The small size of the graves in the graveyards on the edge of the camp was "clear evidence that most of the buried are children," McKinlay noted. (2)

Ian Lethbridge, executive director of the charity Feed the Children, said: "I always judge everything by what I have seen in Africa. And this is on the scale of Africa. I was shocked at the living conditions of the new arrivals."

No aid was reaching these 350,000 people. One woman at the camp confronted McKinlay: "You are just taking pictures. You are not here to help. We can't eat pictures. We are dying. We need food and medicine."

Conditions outside the Maslakh camp were more horrific still. On 4 January, Christian Aid reported: "Refugees arriving at Maslakh camp near Herat have described the `calamity conditions' their families are now living in. …

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