Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Imagine: What if the situation in New Orleans lasted for years? What if the National Guard troops were murdering civilians instead of rescuing them? Well, then it would be almost as bad as the situation in Darfur. And I guess that would mean that the news media would immediately stop covering it:

Darfur in the Dark

Two weeks ago, the "Be a Witness" campaign reported that it couldn't even pay TV networks to cover the genocide in Darfur:

American Progress created a television advertisement for, our netroots campaign that calls out the television news media for their deplorable coverage of the genocide in Darfur. Over the last few days, three Washington DC television affiliates, NBC-4, CBS-9, and ABC-7, informed us that they refuse to air the ad.

Since the major networks seem to have their hands full covering stories like Natalee Holloway and the Runaway Bride, the ad does what the media won't -- puts the spotlight on Darfur, and suggests that genocide warrants increased coverage.

ABC News broadcast just 18 minutes of Darfur coverage in its nightly newscasts in all of 2004 -- "and that turns out to be a credit to Peter Jennings," as Nicholas Kristof pointed out. NBC News featured five minutes, and CBS only had three, "about a minute of coverage for every 100,000 deaths." Now they won't allow us to pay for 30 seconds to urge better coverage of the genocide.
While this is obviously inexcusable, it is at least somewhat understandable that TV networks would be reluctant to run ads criticizing their own failings.

What is odd is that the networks' collective refusal to run this ad generated almost no print media coverage. And judging by the print media's own lack of coverage of Darfur, it is easy to see why.

A search of US newspapers for the number of stories that mentioned the word "Darfur" at least 2 times over the last 19 months shows how coverage of the genocide increased during 2004, only to all but disappear in 2005 (we looked for stories that mention Darfur at least twice in order try to eliminate pieces that mentioned it only in passing)

January 2004: 8

February 2004: 20

March 2004: 29

April 2004: 72

May 2004: 186

June 2004: 327

July 2004: 713

August 2004: 891

September 2004: 659

October 2004: 369

November 2004: 517

December 2004: 269

January 2005: 397

February 2005: 271

March 2005: 240

April 2005: 275

May 2005: 199

June 2005: 227

July 2005: 260

August 2005: 115
The most staggering thing about these numbers is that they reveal that there has been a nearly eight-fold decrease in the number of stories about Darfur between last August and this August.

The other amazing thing is that, on August 1st of this year, former Sudanese rebel leader John Garang died in a helicopter crash. Garang, who only three weeks earlier had been sworn in as vice president under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of civil war between North and South Sudan, was seen by many as a man who might be able to bring peace to Darfur. Yet, despite his death and the implications it holds for the future of Darfur, coverage of Darfur plummeted.

Nearly one year after the United States called the situation in Darfur "genocide" and the United Nations found overwhelming evidence of "serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including crimes against humanity or war crimes" in Darfur, the genocide is receiving less print coverage than it did before many had even heard the word "Darfur."

We cannot "be a witness" to the genocide in Darfur if the media continues to keep us in the dark.


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