Nigeria: How Not to "Bring Back our Girls"
May 12, 2014
Margaret Kimberley / Black Agenda Report & Jim Lobe / Inter Press Service
Bring back our girls. The message is a simple one that resonates with people around the world. But only those who closely follow international news were aware of this situation until last week. Unfortunately, the effort to draw attention to this horror is of little use without a deeper understanding of Africa's political situation. If people outside the US are looking for answers why Americans often seem so clueless about the world outside their borders, they could start with what the three major US television networks offered their viewers in the way of news during 2013.
How Not to "Bring Back our Girls"
Margaret Kimberley / Black Agenda Report & Information Clearinghouse
"The last thing Nigeria needs is a foreign military presence to prop up its corrupt government."
(May 11 2014) -- Bring back our girls. The message is a simple one that resonates with millions of people around the world. Those four words were first seen in a now famous twitter hashtag in the aftermath of the kidnapping of 280 teenagers from a school in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14, 2014. The Boko Haram group, which is fighting that country's government admits to holding the girls captive.
Only people who closely follow international news were aware of this situation until last week. It is right that so many people are concerned for the girls' safety. Unfortunately, the effort to draw attention to this horror is of little use without a deeper understanding of Africa's political situation.
Because western nations continue to interfere in Africa's affairs and place compliant "strong men" in power, nearly every government on that continent is weak. Presidents and prime ministers exist only to enrich elites and ensure that valuable resources reach the western capitalist nations.
It seems ludicrous that Nigerian president Goodluck Johnathan at first denied that the kidnap had taken place, and then vacillated between claiming that the girls had been recovered or that the number captured was smaller than reported. Hashtags and petitions are a poor substitute for a government whose infrastructure is dedicated to producing and delivering oil to the West but not doing very much for its own citizens.
It is little wonder that this story is so new to American ears. According to the Tyndall Report [See story below], which monitors daily broadcasts of the three major US networks, there was not a single television news story about Boko Haram in 2013. This absence of information comes despite the fact that the group claimed responsibility for the deaths of more than 1,500 people in the past year.
Not only is the Chibok case not the first kidnapping of girls, but boys fare even worse in these attacks. Boko Haram killed 29 male students at a boarding school in February 2014. Americans ask why these girls were taken and why they can't be found without having any of the information which would answer those questions. The anger and sadness exist in a vacuum and are therefore useless in bringing about a resolution.
Because Americans are so poorly informed about the rest of the world, and so strangely enamored of their own government and its intentions, they automatically fall back to the worst solution of all, foreign military intervention. President Obama has said that he will assist the Nigerian military. That solution may please people who are understandably concerned about the fate of these young women, but that doesn't make it very helpful.
The last thing Nigeria needs is a foreign military presence to prop up its corrupt government. Nigeria is a linchpin of AFRICOM, which puts African militaries under the direct command of the United States. AFRICOM is in place to protect the resource pipeline and to restrict efforts to keep any other nations from bringing resources that Africans actually need. AFRICOM's presence certainly hasn't helped the victims of Boko Haram thus far.
The late to the party news stories never mention that relatives of suspected Boko Haram members were detained by the police in 2011 and 2012 and that the group swore revenge.
Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau said in one his many videos, "Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women... to your own wives according to sharia law." The kidnappings of the past two years are a direct result of the government's mistreatment of its people and its failed efforts to fight Boko Haram.
This simple tale is not so simple after all. The media constantly repeat that Boko Haram means "western education is forbidden." Except that it more likely means that deception, such as that which came with western colonization and its education system, is forbidden. If this very basic fact about Boko Haram can't be reported properly, then the media are of little help to the missing girls or to the people all over the world who care so much about them.
While Americans wring their hands over the abducted teens, they know nothing about the African strong men supported by their government who do the very same thing. American allies like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda and Paul Kagame in Rwanda have kidnapped children and forced them to become soldiers.
Both are also responsible for the deaths of six million Congolese. Americans not only have to be better informed, but they must stop thinking that their government and its allies are good and beneficent when they are anything but.
Sometimes the answer to the question, "What can we do?" is "Nothing." There is nothing that the average American citizen can do to get these girls released and those with the power to do something aren't very interested in internecine warfare in Nigeria. Their machinations created this and so many other tragedies around the world.
It is difficult not to have a strong emotional reaction to such a terrible story but that is the precise moment to dig deeper and search for complexities. That is the least that can be done to help bring back our girls.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Major Parts of World Ignored
By US TV News in 2013
Jim Lobe / Inter Press Service
(January 12, 2014) -- If people outside the United States are looking for answers why Americans often seem so clueless about the world outside their borders, they could start with what the three major US television networks offered their viewers in the way of news during 2013.
Syria and celebrities dominated foreign coverage by ABC, NBC, and CBS -- whose combined evening news broadcasts are the single most important media source of information about national and international events for most Americans. Vast portions of the globe went almost entirely ignored, according to the latest annual review by the authoritative Tyndall Report.
Latin America, most of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia apart from Afghanistan, and virtually all of East Asia -- despite growing tensions between China and Washington's closest regional ally, Japan -- were virtually absent from weeknight news programmes of ABC, NBC, and CBS last year, according to the report, which has tracked the three networks' evening news coverage continuously since 1988.
Out of nearly 15,000 minutes of Monday-through-Friday evening news coverage by the three networks, the Syrian civil war and the debate over possible US intervention claimed 519 minutes, or about 3.5 percent of total air time, according to the report.
That made the Syrian conflict and the US policy response the year's single-most-covered event. It was followed by coverage of the terrorist bombing by two Chechnya-born brothers that killed three people at the finish line of last April's Boston Marathon (432 minutes); the debate over the federal budget (405 minutes); and the flawed rollout of the healthcare reform law, or Obamacare (338 minutes).
The next biggest international story was the death in December of former South African President Nelson Mandela (186 minutes); the July ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and its aftermath; the coverage of Pope Francis I (157 minutes, not including an additional 121 minutes devoted to Pope Benedict's retirement and the Cardinals' conclave that resulted in Francis' succession); and the birth of Prince George, the latest addition to the British royal family (131 minutes).
The continued fighting in Afghanistan came in just behind the new prince at 121 minutes for the entire year.
The strong showings by the papal succession, Mandela's death, and Prince George's birth all demonstrated the rise of "celebrity journalism" in news coverage, Andrew Tyndall, the report's publisher, told IPS. He added that "a minor celebrity like Oscar Pistorius (the South African so-called "Bladerunner" track star accused of murdering his girlfriend) attracted more coverage [by the TV networks -- 51 minutes] than all the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the  months before Mandela's death."
Surveys by the Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press, among other polling and research groups, show that about two-thirds of the general public cite television as their main source for national and international news, more than twice the number of people who rely on newspapers, and about one-third more than the growing number of individuals whose primary source is the internet.
An average of about 21 million US residents watch the network news on any given evening. While the cable news channels -- CNN, FoxNews, and MSNBC -- often get more public attention, their audience is actually many times smaller, according to media-watchers.
"In 2012, more than four times as many people watched the three network newscasts than watched the highest-rated show on the three cable channels during prime time," Emily Guskin, a research analyst for the Pew Research Centre's Journalism Project, told IPS.
As in other recent years, news about the weather -- especially its extremes and the damage they wrought -- received a lot of attention on the network news, although, also consistent with past performance, the possible relationship between extreme weather and climate change was rarely, if ever, drawn by reporters or anchors.
Last year's tornado season, severe winter weather, drought and wild forest fires in the western states constituted three of the top six stories of the year, according to the report. Along with the aftermath of 2012's Superstorm Sandy, those four topics reaped nearly 900 minutes of coverage on the three networks, or about six percent of the entire year's coverage.
"A major flaw in the television news journalism is its inability to translate anecdotes of extreme weather into the overarching concept of climate change," noted Tyndall. "As long as these events are presented as meteorological and not climatic, then they will be covered as local and domestic, not global.
"An exception in 2013 was Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines," he noted. That event captured 83 minutes of coverage among the three networks, making it the single biggest story by far out of Asia for the year.
By comparison, the growing tensions between Japan and China in the East China Sea -- which many foreign-policy analysts here rate as one of the most alarming events of the past year if, for no other reason, than the US is committed by treaty to militarily defend Japan's territory -- received a mere eight minutes of coverage.
Two other major US foreign policy challenges received more coverage. North Korea and the volatile tenure of its young leader, Kim Jong-un, received a total of 87 minutes, including 10 minutes to visiting basketball veteran Dennis Rodman, of coverage during 2013.
Events in Iran, including the election of President Hassan Rouhani and negotiations over its nuclear programme, received a total of 104 minutes of coverage between the three networks over the course of the year, nearly as much attention as was given the British royals.
Libya received 64 minutes of coverage, but virtually all of it was devoted to the domestic controversy over responsibility for the September 2012 killings of the US ambassador and three other officials there. The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and the civil war and humanitarian disaster in the Central African Republic received no coverage at all.
As for the Israel-Palestinian conflict which Secretary of State John Kerry has made a top priority along with a nuclear deal with Iran, it received only 16 minutes of coverage in 2013. "Palestine has virtually disappeared from the news agenda," noted Tyndall.
As has Latin America, which received virtually no attention, according to Tyndall who suggested that the lack of coverage may be due to the growth of Spanish-language networks here. "The assumption seems to be that anyone interested in Latin American coverage would likely speak Spanish and find it in that language."
Altogether, the three networks devoted just under 4,000 minutes, or about 27 percent of total air time, to coverage of overseas stories or US foreign policy. That was somewhat under the average amount of 25-year average. Indeed, the 1,302 minutes' worth of stories focused on US foreign policy marked a nearly 50-percent reduction from the average.
"In general, foreign policy coverage has risen when the president is bellicose," according to Tyndall, who noted that such coverage had risen sharply as a result of armed conflicts during the administrations of the two Presidents Bush and fallen under Presidents Clinton and Obama.
But the collection by the National Security Agency (NSA) of "metadata" on US citizens and of private conversations and email of foreign leaders as disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- a story with both domestic and international repercussions -- also placed among the top 10 stories of the year with 210 minutes of coverage.
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