Many people would share this sentiment. But it is possible to care and also to recognise that a hierarchy of care is being promoted by media and politicians. Why do some wars dominate the news agenda while others are quickly forgotten? Why did the fate of the those five people in the Titanic submarine dominate the headlines, while the avoidable deaths of hundreds of migrants in a single tragedy in the Mediterranean were soon forgotten? When civil war erupted in Sudan the story was all about foreign citizens trapped in a hell hole. Millions of Sudanese people are still trapped in that hell hole. But they are not considered newsworthy.
You can try to explain it by saying that we know the names of the people in the Titanic sub, and so we identify with them rather than the hundreds of anonymous individuals who died off the coast of Greece. But we only know those names because they have been plastered all over the media. The late Robert Fisk, a veteran reporter of conflicts in the Middle East, always made a point of recording and publishing the names of ordinary people, especially civilian victims of those conflicts. The statistics from the Mediterranean are horrific: on average 3,000 refugees are known to have drowned every year for the last ten years, 1500 people have already drowned this year. And those are just the ones we know about. But statistics lose their impact if they are not supported by human interest stories. The media understands this. Every time there is a strike they go out and look for stories of individual people who have suffered because of the strike. Where are the human stories behind the statistics of the refugee crisis?
The war in Ukraine is closer to home than Sudan or Yemen. There is scant coverage of the clamp down on opposition parties since the war began or the corruption at the heart of government that remains a major obstacle to EU membership. Arms for Ukraine is the big story, mostly pushing the narrative that we should send more weapons. We did send more weapons to Yemen, or rather to Saudi Arabia, along with specialist advisers from our armed forces to ensure that they were used effectively against the Yemeni people, creating a humanitarian disaster in one of the poorest countries in the world. But the only media coverage you see now is the occasional advert on daytime TV for a UNICEF disaster appeal.
In Sudan one of the rival factions is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the UK’s allies in the Middle East. But the ruling family in the UAE also own Manchester City FC. City’s football success has been bought and paid for by people who have been actively funding one side in a civil war that has killed tens of thousands and created hundreds of thousands of refugees. Concerns about ‘sport-washing’ by wealthy tyrants are occasionally raised on the sports pages, but that is all.
The mainstream media has always been largely pro-establishment. But there was a time when it was possible for journalists to perform a public service in holding the contending classes within society to account, whether it was trade union barons, rapacious capitalists or politicians fiddling their expenses. Today’s close relationship with the ruling party has led most outlets to ignore or distort dissenting voices, and not only voices from the left. Peter Oborne wrote an article in October 2019 for his weekly column in the Daily Mail, exposing the level of collusion between mainstream media and Johnson’s Conservative Government. It was refused.
Oborne reported: “This article marked the end of my thirty-year-long career as a writer and broadcaster in the mainstream British press and media.” Oborne, who had previously written for the Spectator and the Telegraph, parted company with the Mail. He had been a regular contributor to Radio Four’s The Week in Westminster for over twenty years. That ceased without explanation. It did not end there. “The mainstream press and media is to all intents and purposes now barred to me,” said Oborne.
The politicisation of care that concerns Nazir Afzal did not start with the left. It is symptomatic of the client journalism that does not report lies, it repeats them, stoking culture wars, demonising working class struggle and welcoming Ukrainian refugees while ignoring the plight of Afghan refugees abandoned by the UK government.
We concluded our article on Peter Oborne with these words:
“Politicians have always told lies, but Johnson has made lying an integral part of government. Senior figures in the media have not just been misled. They have actively participated in the deceit. This amounts to an assault on democracy in which the Fourth Estate is now a Fifth Column.”
Nothing has changed to alter that opinion.