While the news has been buzzing all week long about the Boston bombings, a picture of the Syrian rebels showed up showing solidarity and support for the victims in the attacks, while simultaneously pointing out that these kind of horrors have become part of everyday life in Syria. This picture makes me wonder about two things. First of all, how does the focus on either putting Boston or Syria in the news work, why do the horrors of Boston get more attention in the news than Syria does? And second of all, what does this picture really represent?
We know media have the power to set the agenda, to determine what is important, what is talked and written about and to frame events in a certain way. What becomes news is dependent on several factors, of which an important one is proximity. News has to matter for the audience it’s being produced for, meaning it has to be close to their little frame of reference. That means, national and local news is usually prioritized, and international news only matters when we talk about ‘big event’. When it comes to disasters and attacks, this basically means we can work with the formula of the bigger the distance, the more victims needed to make it into the news. A minor accident or attack on the other side of the world will not break it to the news in my small country of the Netherlands, unless there is a significant amount of people getting hurt. With the exception that if there is only one Dutch tourist being stuck or hurt somewhere, we will hear about it.
Proximity counts in actual geographical terms, but maybe more so in physical ones. Boston is perceived much closer to Europe, since we can much more relate to their situation than to the one in Syria. Running a marathon seems to be a situation we can picture ourselves in easily, the civil war in Syria a little less. It seems to fit in the us versus them idea, where we do not really want to think too much about what we don’t know or cannot understand, whereas the Boston bombings and it’s victims seems to be something we can more easily relate to and identify with.
So it almost seems logical, (right?) since we can relate to this event more, naturally the news about Boston was dominating our news pages last week. That is where I think the Syrian rebels are trying to counter our Western media. While Twitter was talking about this picture with admiration, focusing on the wonderful solidarity to those in Boston, coming from the other side of the world, showing a global connectivity and with all the terror in their world still giving heart to others, I think we can question if this is really what the Syrians were trying to say. Yes, maybe there is some amount of support involved, but the way I see it, isn’t this more a cry for attention? A subtle hint, saying ‘’hey, we are still here…’’.
With now more than two years of an ongoing conflict, news about Syria is still coming our way, but let’s face it, most readers are not that involved anymore, if they ever were. It might not be that people don’t want to hear about it, it is just that the audience is not getting anything ‘new’. The rebellion goes on, a terrible war is being fought and there are more and more victims every day. It is all the same. But, they are still there. While in Boston two people died of bombings, the Syrian war went on another day, and like the picture says, it is a ‘’scene of what happens every day in Syria’’. And it has been happening every day for two years now, sort of diminishing Boston comparison. Messages on Facebook spread saying that at the same time of the bombing, people died in Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. And no, we cannot stand still to all of these tragedies every day, but maybe this subtle message to be heard could open our eyes to look a little bit further than this one case the media presents to us.
So rethink every once in a while which story is presented to you, and what other tragedies are out there. Syria got a reaction back from Boston with their support. Now let’s hope we can give them more of that support without them having to scream out for it first.