Crisis journalism is nationalistic. It doesn’t need to be.

Illustration: André Carrilho
Illustration: André Carrilho

Bury Free Press, 7th November 2014

It’s a curious phenomenon – that when there’s an international crisis happening we all become intensely nationalistic. Take, for instance, the Ebola virus which is destroying populations in West Africa. Columnists, health experts and politicians want to reassure us that the risk to the UK is very small. The NHS estimates that there will be five cases of Ebola infecting a citizen of our country.

Statistically, Ebola will never affect any of the readers of this newspaper. Statistically, it won’t affect anyone who knows anyone who reads this newspaper. You have a 1.4 million to one chance of becoming infected.

And that’s good to know. There’s no real need for people of the UK to panic. So why is it that national boundaries make a difference when reporting cases? Why does the media care more when people affected by Ebola are from the Western world? The message that it sends out to the public is that the lives of people that we don’t know from England are more important than the lives of people we don’t know in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. That sort of mentality is dangerous, and it serves only to distance us in the UK from the plight of other human beings in Africa.

The Ebola outbreak is a horrendous problem. It could have been prevented, with the implementation of healthcare infrastructure, quality sanitation and education of local people about infection. It has been so widespread and so devastating because wealth inequality robs people in those countries from the chance to save themselves. And that’s why its selfish, demeaning and harmful when we – those with the power to help – distance ourselves from indigenous victims when we report almost solely on cases affecting the developed world.

See the article on the Bury Free Press website, here.


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