Image courtesy of Tedey Tan.
On Feb 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to begin the invasion of Ukraine. Since then, the two nations have been at a war so devastating that approximately 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced.
Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is a direct violation of humanitarian rights and an obvious attempt to damage the nation’s sovereignty. The journalists covering this conflict are playing a crucial and challenging role.
However, it is essential that in times like these, when everyone is looking to the media for guidance and understanding of global conflicts, that the reporting is sensitive to readers, watchers, and listeners of all backgrounds.
The media decides who and what is worth the attention of readers. It decides what is breaking news and what is not. But when what is reported on relays a plethora of biases and uncalled for discriminatory language, the media loses its credibility.
These points may seem obvious; however, this conflict has produced a great deal of racist and Western exceptionalist coverage.
An outstanding volume of racist comparisons between the validity of concern for a war occurring in Europe versus the Global South have circulated in the media. The notion that the war in Ukraine should be considered grave because it is occurring in a European country has become a rather popular one.
I was particularly struck by a few statements. In a live discussion of the conflict from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, CBS News’ Charles D’Agata noted that Ukraine “isn’t a place… like Iraq or Afghanistan… this is a relatively civilized, relatively European nation.” D’Agata’s statement insinuates two points about this conflict. The first is that because Ukraine is in Europe, the issue takes precedence over any other nation, especially ones in the Middle East. The second, and arguably most insulting bit, is the idea that nations of the Global South are “uncivilized.”
“They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking … War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone,” said British journalist Daniel Hannan in The Telegraph. A commentator on French TV exclaimed, “We’re not talking about Syrians fleeing bombs of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.”
It is dialogue such as this, so blatant and belittling—so filled with white supremacy—that truly gutted my faith in the coverage of this war. It is a perfect example of, in the words of Al-Jazeera writer, Patrick Gathara, “pearl-clutching” Western exceptionalism.
How can one call themselves a journalist when they center their perception of the world around the West? How can one be so intent on bringing justice to a people while simultaneously denying an entire sector of the world of their rights?
Every moment of this conflict has been reported on. Every moment has been analyzed and condemned. What makes this conflict more worthy of screen time than that of wars—of virtually the same grounds—in the Global South? Well, according to the apparent moral deformities of Western media, it’s because this is happening in Europe. In other words, it’s happening to White people.
What is worse is that these deformities hold more than just skewed moral and ethical implications; they also hold geopolitical ones. If this is how the West responds to conflict rising in its sector of the world, it insinuates that there will be no real roadblocks for those who choose to act similarly to Putin in other countries— so long as it does not disrupt the Western world.
The attention that the crisis in Ukraine has received has resulted in immediate action being taken by governments globally. From economic sanctions to providing military aid, Ukraine has been backed by numerous powers. We are seeing the impacts that global sanctions can have on slowing, and hopefully stopping, a war.
It’s also worth mentioning that, even though the repercussions of these sanctions stand to be drastically affecting the United States economy, businesses and other financiers continue to commit to the rejection and fiscal protest of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
A reaction like this from the West is seemingly unheard of when “confronting” conflict in the South. Part of this is because the ideologies that influenced the racist reporting on Russia-Ukraine are shared by the policymakers in the West; and part of it can likely be drummed up to the lack of coverage that these conflicts receive overall.
That is the power of the media. That is the responsibility of the media. If we choose to reveal the horrors of war, we must reveal them everywhere. Israel’s demolition of Palestine. Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen. The United States’ airstrikes on Somalia.
Journalism is an incredibly crucial factor in a democratic society and the words that journalists print and speak hold a great deal of influence. We can not use a language that simultaneously justifies one horror and condemns another. We must embrace inclusivity as a necessity in journalism.
If Western media wants to discuss the harm that the threat to sovereignty has on people of a given nation, they should discuss threats to sovereignty everywhere.