Unequal Media Coverage of Russian Invasion of Ukraine

As I write this post, it has been nearly two weeks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainians have hid in subway stations and bomb shelters, fled to neighboring countries, and fought like hell. There’s no doubt that Ukrainians need help in this time of crisis, and for the world to expose Russian President Vladimir Putin for who he is.

Every channel and news source you turn to, Ukraine is a top story. I find myself consistently wanting updates about the situation, too. What Putin continues to do is wrong.

However, for a few days, I’ve been thinking about why Ukraine is getting so much more media attention than so many other conflicts all over the world? I try to be an informed citizen, so these are the world conflicts that I’m aware of that hasn’t ended and do not have the same media coverage:

1. Tigray (2020)

The Tigray War is a civil war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. A power struggle between the Ethiopian government and forces in the Tigray region. Tigray is located in northern Ethiopia and borders Eritrea, and the Tigray faction had held political power in Ethiopia before Abiy Ahmed was elected Prime Minister in 2018, who is a member of an opposing faction.

Source: AFP

Many things were done by both sides to increase tensions, including ethnic tensions, that were already present in the country. When PM Abiy postponed the general election in 2020 citing COVID-19, Tigrayan officials accused PM Abiy of trying to cling to power and held an election anyway, which led to the PM suspending funds to the region. Both sides have been accused of war atrocities, “phone lines were shut down, the internet was cut off, banks were closed and journalists were barred from the region.”

Sources: BBC (includes map towards the end) / The Guardian / Britannica

2. Rohingya (2017)

Rohingya are Muslims and descended from Arab traders. The majority of Rohingya inhabited the Rakhine State, a sliver in Myanmar’s (Burma) southwestern border, for generations, and are one of many ethnic groups in the country.

Source: Observer BD, daily newspaper in Bangladesh

Despite living in Myanmar for generations, the Myanmar government refuses to grant citizenship to Rohingya because the government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Among other tensions include the government excluding Rohingya from the census in 2014, restrictions to education and freedom of movement, religious differences (majority Buddhist Myanmar, Muslim Rohingya), and Rohingya militants (ARSA) attacking police posts beginning in late 2016 killing nine officers. The catalyst for Rohingya exodus was on August 25, 2017 when the same Rohingya militia group launched deadly attacks on over 30 police posts. The police and government responses were horrific, which include gang raping women and girls, killing Rohingya women, children, and infants indiscriminately, and deliberately burning homes, schools, markets, and mosques.

Sources:

  • BBC – What you need to know (includes maps)
  • BBC – What sparked the latest violence
  • BBC – UN condemns ‘devastating’ abuse
  • UN Human Rights – Devastating Cruelty

3. Uighurs (2015?)

Chinese government officials have been targeting Uighurs (pronounced wee-gurz) in various ways. The Chinese government accuses Uighurs of being terrorists, so government officials target Uighurs through lengthy prison terms and death sentences. Uighurs are Chinese Muslims with ethnic heritage to Turkey and are natives to the Xinjiang region.

Source: East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM), a non-violent int’l political and human rights org.
Note: East Turkistan is the same region as Xinjiang

Chinese government officials have also quietly made Uighurs disappear through mass relocation, detention, re-education camps, and constant surveillance to name a few. Some equate what Chinese government officials are doing to Uighurs as equivalent to genocide. Uighurs who are able to escape fear for their lives. I wrote the year 2015 with a question mark because my first post about the government targeting Uighurs was in 2015, and I cannot pinpoint what year this targeting began. Nobody really knows the scope of this except the Chinese officials with a need-to-know clearance.

Sources: Uighur tag / Xinjiang tag on this blog

When I read an article from NPR that also states explicitly that not every war gets the same coverage as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I knew that I had to write about it. The NPR article cites an expert reasoning that people “care more about conflicts that are geographically closer, share a social identity (which could include race and religion), share a language or share an imperial or colonial history.”

Presented with these reasons, some reasons are stronger than others in regards to the U.S., and some aren’t presented in the quote above.

First, maintaining democracies is important value for the U.S., which sharply contrasts with Putin as an autocrat. We see this with numerous propaganda the state distributes, surveillance and censorship of social media on its citizens, and arresting dissenters in Russia. In contrast, the U.S. has so much disinformation and misinformation about anything and everything, numerous critics of the current president, and no censorship of citizens.

Second, it’s undeniable that American history and culture is Eurocentric, and religions are Judeo-Christian. Ukrainians are Judeo-Christian also, thus, there’s greater sympathy.

Beyond the points above, Ukraine has factors that make the invasion accessible to the globe: (1) journalist accessibility, (2) English-speaking, and a (3) connection to the world.

Journalists have been reporting from Ukraine and neighboring countries, recording the increasing destruction, at times during an attack, as many aspects of this complex and developing situation, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s needs to get through this crisis. It’s very difficult to see so many injured people and destruction, which makes Ukraine’s case so compelling.

Reporters have also interviewed Ukrainians in Ukraine and neighboring countries, and some of those interviewed speak English. When answering journalists’ questions in a secret location, President Zelenskyy also answers questions in English. In addition, some Ukrainians who post videos of what they were experiencing was in English. Regular Ukrainians ability to broadcast to the world implies there is internet connection and service still works.

Nothing replaces what people can see first-hand, and because English is a lingua franca, people can hear first-hand accounts, too. When journalists and regular Ukrainians have the ability to broadcast this invasion globally, everyone is glued for updates.

Ukraine > Tigray

When we compare the unique conditions that Ukraine’s invasion has to Tigray, the Ethiopian government has cut themselves off from the world. Journalists don’t have access to the country to report the civil war. Families in different parts of the world can’t get in-touch with their loved ones for updates. Leaking any developments could lead to an international spotlight on them again. It must be noted that Ethiopians speak English.

Ukraine > Rohingya

When we compare the unique conditions that Ukraine’s invasion has to Rohingya, given that Rohingyas are restricted in education and freedom of movement and are not considered a citizen of Myanmar, it is reasonable to conclude that Rohingya are not affluent enough to technological capabilities to share their stories with the world. Even if Rohingyas have the technology capabilities to broadcast to the world, the language that Rohingyas speak is closer to what Bangladeshis speak, so finding interpreters to detail these horrific experiences may be difficult to find. Moreover, the Myanmar government controlled and censored all media since 1962, so it wasn’t a big surprise when the government imprisoned two Reuters journalists because they were reporting about the abuses, genocide, and exodus/refugee crisis of Rohingya. (There was a successful military coup in Myanmar in 2021, so now they are ruled by a miliary junta).

Furthermore, it’s possible that Rohingya have been stained as Muslims who commit attacks against Myanmar’s authorities. People also don’t distinguish that in every society, there are small factions who are more radical than the norm that doesn’t represent the entire group. Therefore, it’s more difficult for people to sympathize with Rohingya.

Ukraine > Uighurs

When we compare the unique conditions that Ukraine’s invasion has to Uighurs, the Uighurs’ genocide is the most complex of the three featured in this post. The Chinese government is known to control all aspects within their borders, which includes monitoring their citizens and quelling all types of dissent. The government also censors content, so journalists are do not freely report issues in China. It’s known that journalists have been detained and disappeared, and their families have experienced similar actions. Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to get any raw information about the government or things that make the country/government look bad.

In addition, we know numerous countries are dependent on Chinese imports, so countries do not feel compelled to stand up to the genocide, instead, they look the other way.

Knowing how the government treats their dissenting citizens, Uighurs aren’t going to get better treatment. Even if Uighurs manage to escape China, the suffer psychological harm from being forced into re-education and/or concentration camps, and continually fear that China can still harm them and their families.

In all, we are only 3 months into 21 years in the second millennium, and there is no shortage of the worst of humanity done to one another, but whether they get displayed on an international stage and something is done about it is another story.

Published by

Leanne

I manage two blogs - Elle's Adventure in China (EACh) and Read and Write Here (R&WH). EACh currently has China-related content from reputable news sources. R&WH is to express my creativity through writing, art, jewelry, and to inform others.

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