Media, culture and armed violence

Review shows many British newspapers underreporting global harm of explosive weapons

June 2014 was a terrible month for the use of explosive weapons globally. Yet in a month where 30 different countries saw over 4450 casualties from 246 incidents of explosive weapon use, news of their impact in some UK papers barely made the footnotes.

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) analysed the reporting of explosive weapons by nine of the UK’s biggest selling print dailies in June 2014 (the Times, the I, the Independent, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Sun).

Using our widely cited global explosive weapons monitor as a gauge, we wanted to see how widely the use of explosive weapons against civilians was reported in the UK print media.

AOAV’s explosive weapons monitor tracks global English language media reports of explosive weapon harm. We look at over 400 media outlet globally and our monitor is regularly cited by the United Nations and international media.

In this review AOAV compared our base line global monitor of explosive weapon harm with reports by the UK print media.  We only focused on print newspapers as these provide a fixed base-line and are distinctly quantifiable, unlike the ability to change and amend online blogs, for instance.

Reading some UK print newspapers, however, it would appear that the use of explosive weapons against civilians is often not considered prominent enough to make the news.

The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph were notable in this regard.

The Daily Telegraph reported less than 3% of all the 246 incidents of explosive violence globally in June. Their coverage of violent events unfolding in Iraq, however, was admirable, though the focus was not specifically on explosive weapon harm. The Daily Telegraph has covered the violence in Iraq extensively in their on-line edition, including reporting incidents of explosive weapon use.

The Daily Mail did even worse.  Their print edition reported 0.4% of all incidents. The incident reported, where 14 civilians were killed and 12 injured while watching a World Cup match in Nigeria, was not the worst of the attacks that month.

Overall, six of the nine print newspapers that AOAV analysed reported less than 5% of all incidents, some far less.

Three newspapers, however, stood out for their admirable reporting of explosive weapon use.

The Guardian reported about 11% of the global total. It’s coverage included over 35% of harmful explosions in Nigeria, and about 10% of those in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan.

The Times and the i followed closely behind, with 10% (25) and 7% (18) reports of explosive weapons harm, respectively.

The Times’ reporting of explosive weapon use in Syria and Nigeria (16.7% and 25% of all incidents were reported, respectively) was notable.

The i reported on 50% of all explosive weapon incidents in Nigeria, far more than all other print newspapers analysed.

The review also highlighted that certain countries were given far more attention than others, regardless of the numbers of incidents and casualties.

So, while Iraq dominated the headlines due to the ISIS advance in the country, explosive weapon use and their resulting casualties were largely absent in the print reporting. The Guardian was the notable exception, covering 9 of the 79 incidents.

Ukraine, as would be expected, was given a certain amount of attention. However, the country which was reported on far more regularly than all other countries was Nigeria, impacted by 8 incidents. Only one of the newspapers reviewed did not report on any incidents of explosive violence in Nigeria (The Sun) with four of the nine print editions reporting more than 25% of all incidents.

Syria appears to have fallen off the print news agenda. While the front and centre pages were full of analysis of ISIS in Iraq, Syria was nowhere to be found. The Times was standout for its reporting in detail on explosive weapon use in Syria, covering over 15% of all explosive weapon incidents there. Over 700 Syrian civilians were casualties of explosive weapons in June.

It would appear that the UK media is not an even playing field when it comes to the reporting of such events, with some of the most influential and widely read mid-market newspapers giving less space then the red tops to the use of explosive weapons.

This is all the more concerning when you realise that, overall, there was a 26% rise in the number of casualties killed or injured from the month before (from 3,542 in May to 4,454 in June).  Of those harmed in the 246 incidents in June, 76% were civilians. Escalating violence in Iraq, as well as the continuing civil conflict in Syria, were largely behind this rise. In Iraq, over 1,800 civilians were killed or injured by 79 explosive weapon incidents in June, nearly triple the number harmed in May this year.

A Guardian News and Media spokesperson said of the report: “This interesting study by AOAV draws attention to an important and growing issue worldwide. While the work of any news outlet is never complete, we’re proud to see the Guardian’s in-depth and award-winning foreign journalism recognised as best in class, which is testament to our commitment to international reporting.”

The Times responded to AOAV about our findings. “The Times is proud of its record on foreign reporting and strives to cover conflict zones accurately through our network of journalists on the ground. We are interested to hear of the AOAV’s work monitoring the reporting of explosive weapons, and we note there is still much more to be done in exposing the harm caused to civilians, particularly in this period of escalating violence,” said a spokesperson.

AOAV’s Director of Policy and Investigations, Iain Overton, said of the review: “Our ambition was not to name and shame newspapers who failed to report on explosive weapon use, but to help foreign editors think twice about what news they might focus on in the future.  We applaud the work of the Guardian, the Times, and the i for highlighting the terrible harm that explosive weapons, when used in populated areas, cause to civilians, and we hope that others follow their admirable reporting lead.”

The methodology employed by AOAV in this study was the same as the one we use for our own global monitor.  Namely, the paper had to specifically mention the location within the country, the casualty count and the date of the incident. Any vague references, reports of explosive weapon use which were not specific enough, or generic mentions of ‘explosive weapon use’ were not included.