Sign in or
The big three networks and international news coverage
by Anuradha Kher, posted on November 21, 2007
There are more than 190 nations in the world. But if one were to go by the United States’ media’s coverage of international events, it would seem like the world consists of no more than 10 nations.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center for the people and the press revealed that network television channels focus most often on world news that have a distinct American orientation and that local television (from which one-fourth of Americans get most of their news) have almost no international coverage. The report also said that the U.S media’s foreign coverage is not biased in text but is somewhat biased in its choice of topic.
But what is international coverage?
News channels describe it as international headlines from around the world. By that definition, any story covering a part of the world other than the United Sates, is an international story. For the purpose of this essay, I have defined an international story as a story that is about the people of another nation and may at the same time affect the people in the United States. So a story about American soldiers dying in Iraq is an international story (because it is taking place in Iraq and Iraqis are involved in it) but a story about the Iraq funding bill is not an international story.
History of the decline of international news on networks as well as in other American publications:
During the last decade, all three networks have slashed their foreign bureaus and correspondents. ABC News had 17 foreign bureaus 15 years ago. Today, it has seven. CBS has said it had similarly cut back, and NBC said it maintained a presence in 17 foreign sites but had significantly reduced its overseas staff.
Adapting to competition from the Internet in a downward advertising cycle, the largest U.S.-based newsweeklies too have adopted sharply different tactics for the future of their international editions - and none of them involves expansion. Editors at Newsweek, Time and BusinessWeek emphasize their commitment to international coverage. Yet in January 2006, staff reductions at Time and Newsweek and the outright closure of BusinessWeek's international print edition will almost certainly reduce the amount of news and analysis of global affairs.
In 2006, the Boston Globe announced that it is closing its three foreign bureaus in order to cut costs, after over 30 years of international and overseas reporting.
With so many international bureaus shutting down, it is no wonder that international news is becoming sparse.
How did network executives get away with it? By claim that Americans never cared much about international news and events. And they may have been right. According to a National Geographic study in 2006, two-thirds Americans do not know that the catastrophic October 2005 earthquake that killed 70,000 people struck in Pakistan. More than four in 10 can't even place Pakistan in Asia.
According to the survey, conducted in December 2005/January 2006, young Americans are alarmingly ignorant of the relationships between places that give context to world events.
Seventy-four percent believe English is the primary language spoken by the most people in the world; it is Mandarin Chinese.
While this survey does not say anything about America’s media consumption habits, it certainly indicates that the average American has little desire to keep abreast with general knowledge from around the world.
How the network news shows cover international news?
Since 9/11, the networks have included a great deal of international stories in their evening and morning news casts.
But due to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and unrest in the Middle East and other Islamic nations, the international coverage has by and large come to restrict itself to countries in the Middle East.
A study I conducted of network news transcripts over a period of 3 months (90 days), revealed that stories about Iraq appeared on early morning and evening shows on at least 42 days, closely followed by stories on Pakistan on at least 18 days. Stories on Iran and Afghanistan appeared on morning and evening network news shows at least on 5 days. On all three networks, there were at least 15 days out of 90 when no international news was covered on either the morning or evening news shows.
The exact number of days the country was covered on a morning or/and evening news show:
Most frequent topics discussed in relation to the countries:
Based on the study of network news shows, it is clear that network television channels focus most often on world news that has a distinct American orientation. Case in point is the coverage of Iraq. Since 2003, when the United States began its war in Iraq, the country became a regular in the international news sections of the three networks. Based on the statistics, in the last three months, at least 50 percent of the international news was from Iraq.
Another 35 percent was from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. In all these countries too, the United States has vested interests. United States began its war in Afghanistan in 2001 and still maintains a presence there. Meanwhile, the United States has also been waging a battle of words with Iran. From threatening the nation with sanctions, to the recent drumbeat of war, United States has expressed that it will do anything (maybe even invade Iran) to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Then there is Pakistan, a key regional ally of the United States. The state of emergency in Pakistan has made Pakistan a new regular on network news. But Pakistan would not have been on the news with such regularity had it not been for the fact that America has donated billions of dollars to the country, to help fight Al Qaeda on its soil.
North Korea, Turkey, Israel and Palestine, some of the other nations that were frequently covered on network channels in the past 90 days, also have a direct relation with the United States.
In a report called the Tyndall Report ADT Research reveals the kind of international news the networks are choosing to cover. September 11 and the wars that resulted have led to increased coverage of foreign policy and global conflict on the network evening news, says the report. The coverage of armed conflict rose 69 percent and the coverage of terrorism rose 135 percent.
Following a period in which news organizations cut back on foreign bureaus and de-emphasized geopolitical coverage, the events of 9-11 have reinforced the old Cold War truism that the first responsibility of the nightly newscast is to determine whether our world is safe that day. But the jump in minutes devoted to coverage of foreign policy, is again related to armed conflicts and terrorism in parts of the world where American soldiers are fighting or where American government is donating money or importing oil from.
Stories that network news audience might have missed:
The stories that don’t often make it to network news are those where millions suffer or die just not in places where the United States has anything to gain or lose.
The overall nightly news audience for networks still accounts for the largest number of people watching news at any one time. The total evening network news audience now stands at around 26 million, a substantial number for a country of 300 million people. And those who do not get their news from sources other than network news are completely missing some very important stories from around the world.
An official UN News Service report stated that in Sudan, “over 400,000 people have lost their lives and some 2 million more have been driven from their homes." On September 30, 2007, the rebels in Sudan overran a base, killing at least 12 United Nations peacekeepers in "the heaviest loss of life and biggest attack on the African Mission" during a raid at the end of Ramadan season. But there was no mention of this atrocity on the network news shows.
In August this year, a report by Yakin Erturk, special rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council on violence against women, found extreme sexual violence against women is pervasive in the Democratic Republic Congo and local authorities do little to stop it or prosecute those responsible. Her report also found 'women are gang raped, often in front of their families and communities. In numerous cases, male relatives are forced at gun point to rape their own daughters, mothers or sisters. But there was no mention of the report on the network news shows. Despite America’s desire to help those who can’t help themselves, it has largely remained uninvolved in Sudan and DRC. As a result, the media has stayed away from the stories too. NO matter how much atrocity and injustice is taking place in these countries.
Another story that went unnoticed on network news is that of the emergency in Georgia. On November 8 this year, Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili declared a 15-day nationwide state of emergency after police broke up a sixth day of opposition protests. But in a striking contrast to the coverage of the emergency in Pakistan, Georgia received no mention on the morning or evening network news shows.
Why should Americans care about the rest of the world:
As a superpower (both militarily and economically), the United States has an important role to play in the world. In any crisis around the world, it is often the United States that brings attention to it and helps out in aid.
But Americans are too often insulated and isolated from the rest of the world. They are shockingly ignorant about the world in which they play such a dominant role.
Recent Harris poll results reveal that two-thirds of Americans are pretty much in the dark about world affairs. Only 14 percent of men and 3 percent of women claimed to be extremely knowledgeable on world politics.
A full 88 per cent of the public regard the government of Libya as unfriendly (including 39 per cent who see it as unfriendly and an enemy, and 49 per cent who recognize it as not friendly but not an enemy), although American relations with Libya are now - after many years of hostility - far more amicable.
82 per cent of the public see the Iraqi government as not friendly, including 52 per cent who see it as an enemy. Seventy-seven per cent regard the Afghan government as unfriendly. In both countries, of course, American troops are fighting to keep these governments in power.
In a country as big as the United States there is plenty of news to go around without trying to know about other parts of the world. But that substantial ignorance can be a problem for a superpower conducting an actively interventionist foreign policy. If Americans aren’t aware of happenings in the world, their leaders can sell them wars and sanctions based on misconceptions and myths (They—all of Iraq—would be better off without Saddam Hussein.) Since a majority of Americans simply did not know the basic facts (that there are three ethnic groups in Iraqi) about the country, they believed this to be true. And we know how that turned out.
Pew Research Center for the people and the press
National Geographic study on Public Affairs in 2006
Tyndall Report ADT Research
Lexis Nexis for transcripts of news
Harris poll 2006
Latest page update: made by anu.kher
, Nov 21 2007, 10:55 AM EST
(about this update
About This Update
Edited by anu.kher
1 word added
- complete history)
Keyword tags: None
More Info: links to this page
There are no threads for this page. Be the first to start a new thread.