Alisa Miller, the head of Public Radio International, picks up the theme of last night’s BBC world debates. She shows a cartogram – a distored map of the world. This cartogram is distorted to show media attention – how many minutes of coverage each nation received in network television last year.
The map is striking, and gets a round of applause immediately. It’s dominated by the US – which got 79% of news minutes – and by Iraq. Attention to India, Russia and China totalled less than 1% of stories. She points out that there were amazing international stories, including Indonesian flooding, international evidence of global warming, North Korean nuclear crises… and basically nothing but Iraq got picked up.
The situation gets worse – the death of Ana Nicole Smith eclipsed attention to every country by Iraq. Why do we let this happen? Well, news networks have reduced their staff by half, and there are no full network news bureas in Africa, South America, India – continents that include 2.5 billion people. “Frankly, covering Britney is cheaper.”
These maps look at network news – local news is worse, with only 12% of coverage focused internationally – and local news is watched by almost 80% of the US population. Unfortunately, Miller sees similarities in internet news as well – the top 24 stories on network news were the same ones studies saw on Google and Yahoo News.
This is why educated American know less about the world than their counterparts did 20 years ago. It’s not lack of interest – the number of Americans who say they follow global news closely has rised from 37 to 52% over that 2 decade period. “I know we can do better. And we can’t afford not to.”