One of the running complaints about newspaper journalism in Britain is that there has been a retreat from international reporting.
It is undeniable that foreign bureaux have been shut down and that staff correspondent posts have vanished. But that need not mean, in this digital era, that papers are publishing less news from abroad.
Some titles, however, appear to be doing a great deal better than others at reporting really significant international events, as an interesting new survey reveals.
Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a London-based charity dedicated to reducing the use of global armed violence, carried out a detailed analysis of the reporting in nine national daily titles of incidents involving explosive weapons.
It wanted to discover how widely the use of explosive weapons resulting in civilian casualties was reported in the print issues of the mainstream British national press.
So AOAV carefully studied coverage throughout the month of June 2014 in The Times, Independent, i, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Express and the Sun.
June was a particularly deadly month globally, with 4,454 people killed or injured in 30 different countries in explosive events. Of those harmed in 246 separate incidents, 76% were civilians.
Escalating violence in Iraq, as well as the continuing conflict in Syria, were largely behind the rise. In Iraq, for instance, more than 1,800 civilians were killed or injured by 79 explosive weapon incidents.
But there was a wide disparity in the number of incidents covered. The Guardian reported on 26 incidents, about 11% of the global total. The Times and the i followed closely behind, with coverage of 10% (25) and 7% (18) respectively.
At the other end of the scale, the Mail and Telegraph were responsible for the least coverage. The Telegraph reported fewer than 3%, just seven of the 246 incidents.
And the Mail did even worse. Its print issue reported only one incident in the month of June, which represented just 0.4% of the total. This single event, where 14 civilians were killed and 12 were injured while watching a World Cup match in Nigeria, was not even the most worst attack that month.
Overall, five of the nine papers reported fewer than 5% of all incidents, some far less. Three newspapers, however, stood out for their admirable reporting of explosive weapon use.
The Times’s reporting of such use in Syria and Nigeria (16.7% and 25% of all incidents were reported, respectively) was notable. The i reported on 50% of all such incidents in Nigeria, far more than the other eight titles.
The Guardian’s coverage was noteworthy because it included more than 35% of harmful explosions in Nigeria, and about 10% of those that occurred in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan.
The AOAV’s review (confined, of course, to newsprint) 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, explosive weapon use and their resulting casualties were largely absent in the print reporting, with the Guardian being a notable exception, covering nine of the 79 incidents.
Ukraine, as would be expected, gained a certain amount of attention. However, the country given the greatest attention was Nigeria, with eight incidents. Only one paper, the Sun, failed to report on the Nigerian events.
One significant discovery was that Syria’s conflict appeared to have fallen off the print news agenda.
While the front and inside pages were full of analysis of Isis in Iraq, Syria got short shrift. The Times stood out for its reporting in detail on explosive weapon use in Syria, covering over 15% of all explosive weapon incidents there.
Yet more than 700 Syrian civilians were casualties of explosive weapons during he month of June.
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.”
AOAV is partially funded by the Norwegian government and, as a registered charity, also accepts donations from the public.
Methodological note: AOAV compiled the total number of explosive weapon incidents through the study of 400 media outlets globally. Its “global explosive weapons monitor” is regularly cited by the United Nations and international media.
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