Unfortunately, tragedies such as the one we all read about in Oregon last week are seemingly occurring more and more frequently. In recent memory, we’ve had accidents occur in Mecca Hajj, as well as terrorist attacks in both Tunisia and Bangkok, which have dominated headlines in the UK as the total number of those killed continued to increase. However, often before we hear the total number of deceased in these incidents, the first reports often concern the number of Brits specifically that have been killed or injured.
For example, in the immediate moments after the Hajj stampede last week, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond was quoted as saying “[UK officials were] checking hospitals and other locations to urgently gather information about British nationals who may require assistance”. Another, more prominent example of such reporting is evidenced by the coverage of the Tunisian terrorist attacks in June. When watching the reports of the massacre on British news channels and read about it in their newspapers; reports predominantly concerned discussion of British loss and tragedy first, being followed by reports of total loss.
This led to me to question why there is seemingly a greater concern for British lives and their safety, than human life in general. I should also say before I start, this is not an attempt to ‘Brit-bash’. I think (most of) the arguments I have considered can apply to pretty much any nation and their media’s reporting of attacks and tragedies alike. I am merely discussing Britain specifically as the British media are by far those I have had the most exposure to. I begin by considering what I deem legitimate reasons for the prioritisation of British lives in the reporting of scenarios such as above.
The first and most obvious explanation for such reporting is due to the concern of family and friends of Brit’s who may be in an area that has been subjected to an attack. This is inarguably an immediate concern for British people and certainly goes some way to justifying the reporting trends we see. The authorities in the UK have an obligation to find out any relevant information required to inform victim’s families of any injuries and deaths, before they are named in the media.
Furthermore, attacks such as the ones mentioned above can obviously affect the ‘safety’ of certain regions. The Foreign Office inform UK citizens with ‘travel advice’ if they are considering travelling to a certain region. With attacks such as that in Tunisia, the relevance of British people’s lives and safety is again obvious as a primary announcement. If British people are travelling to such regions, it is extremely important that they know if there are precautions that need to be taken, or if they need to amend travel plans to avoid certain areas due to new threats. I also think the media can legitimately claim these as explanations for a prioritisation of British lives in their reporting, as using the media is definitely the quickest way of getting such news and advice to British people.
However, these reasons do not and should not imply the greater importance of the well-being of Brits, ahead of any other human being overall. With such a reporting style, there is a danger of nationalist ideals being encouraged by this idea that British people supposedly care more about British victim’s than any others. The problem of nationalism in relation to human rights/equality has already been discussed before on this page, by Fionn O’Donovan and the consideration of this topic here, supports that article’s conclusions. The effect of reporting in this manner fuels nationalism I feel, because it can encourage the consumers of such reports to care more about the lives and well-being of those born in the same country as them ahead of victim’s with different nationalities.
Whether the intention is express or implicit should not matter. I feel the detrimental effects such reporting can have (discussed below) outweigh any pro’s of prioritising the discussion of British people’s well-being. Some of the main detrimental effects of this reporting that I have identified are:
Supporting the idea of our nationality being a superior characteristic – To report in the manner the British media does, insinuates that our nationality should be seen as a superior characteristic in our persona. Because by chance, we happen to share a country of birth with a person who has been killed in an attack, the attack becomes more newsworthy and the loss of their life more important to us than any others. It suggests more sadness and sympathy should be felt. To try and help you understand how ridiculous I think this is, let me use an example. Instead of nationality being the random characteristic we assign as one to provide greater importance of a story, think of shoe size being that important characteristic. Imagine a news report about an attack or accident, where people have been killed. How would it be taken by consumers, if news stations first told us how many people with size 8 feet had died or been injured, before reporting the total number of people, regardless of shoe size? To prioritise people because of their nationality is as ridiculous to me, as this would be to you (I hope).
The domino effect – By us accepting this trend to prioritise British people, I believe it creates a domino effect. News broadcasters and writers will always aim to report stories that they think the consumer is most likely to buy and subscribe to their services for. Maintaining news establishment is reliant on financial support (like any business) and therefore they have to give the reader what they think they want. What we want coincides with what we don’t complain about. If we all are simply happy to continue seeing broadcasts which discuss British well-being ahead of human beings well-being in general, they have no reason to think this is a problem. What this often can snowball in to is the idea that the consumer is only concerned with attacks where there are (potentially) British victims. For example, how many times have you personally seen the current civil war in Myanmar discussed in the news? The reason this is so under-reported is because there is no immediate danger posed to the British public by this war. In fact, the war started not too long after Burma gained independence from Britain. I feel by suggesting British lives matter more, we imply that as consumers, we don’t care as much about wars and tragedies that solely concern foreign human beings. From a humanist perspective, this is extremely detrimental.
The limits to the effect of globalisation – One of the best things about globalisation is the checks and balances it allows any given individual to place on almost anything they want to discuss. However, by suggesting our own country’s loss is more important than any others, we severely limit this power. In connection to the previous point, we are suggesting that other nation’s problems and losses are inferior to our own, fracturing the links that globalisation has provided for us. It has provided us with a greater power than any generation before, to progress towards world peace and removed the boundaries borders used to uphold, yet by prioritising matters with a domestic link, we endanger that as a tool.
Offering aid – Finally, the effect it can have in our attitude towards helping victims of war and terror is certainly a negative one. For example, the recent show of ‘compassion’ from our government by agreeing to accept a pitiful 20,000 refugees during their entire period in Parliament, can largely be put down to the fact that there was a call from the public to help these people. However, this was certainly helped by the huge media coverage this refugee crisis has received. If we do not hear about these conflicts, it has a seriously detrimental effect on the attention other displaced peoples receive – most of whom require the same sort of attention currently being paid (by some) to those refugees currently entering Europe. Unfortunately, there is a trend at the moment for our government to tell us that we have plenty of money when discussing how the economy is progressing, but no money when questions are asked about their limited action in helping those in need. If we continue to allow British people’s well-being to be seen as more important than others, it often means the government experiences no public pressure to help those in need. It is a sad and inhumane position to be in, that we seemingly have to apply public pressure to make sure the government act responsibly in trying to avoid international atrocities, but it is a necessity at present and the current manner of reports can restrict the amount of pressure we apply.
Simply, I argue that equality and the value of human life, regardless of individual characteristics, is seriously damaged by the current method of reporting. I do not blame the media solely for the current state of its methods (as I have mentioned above, the government’s lack of action towards such tragedies, as well as our refusal to stand up against these methods also play a pivotal part). However, it is time for them to make a contribution towards ending the current prioritisation of British lives. The current framework suggests hearing of a human tragedy regardless of nationality is not worthy of our attention. If we are to truly tackle inequality and try to provide better opportunities and safety for those facing constant danger, we need to stop suggesting British lives matter more to us.