Global Poverty News Coverage vs Domestic News


EL PASO, Texas- A great question on the minds of many is what constitutes major news coverage.  While the answer to that may depend on personal preference, it is not difficult to see global poverty issues are largely absent from news tickers and the national media outlets where many Americans get their news.  Leaving the poor around the world out of the proverbial conversation isn’t something new and may reflect a broader trend that sees even the American poverty picture ignored.

With the passing of the latest national election season, the media coverage focused mostly on the American economy and jobs, but paid little attention to real American poverty beyond soundbites and talking points.  Global poverty issues were even more of an afterthought, which is confusing when considering the connection between global poverty solutions, national security policy and the national economy.  

A Nieman Watch report from 2009 highlights Columbia University economics professor and United Nations advisor Jeffrey Sachs’ assessment that broader media attention to global and domestic poverty in America would lead to a better national and global economy and help quell fears of terrorism abroad.  Sachs asserts that things like the Millennium Development Goals put forth by the U.N. are hardly covered with few exceptions.

Any attention is usually directed at terrorist attacks and other maladies, such as the civil unrest in sub-Saharan Africa and the Somali pirate story that dominated coverage several years ago.  There was no exploration of the underlying causes but rather speculation about United States military action.

The New York Times in 2013 reported findings from the Pew Research Center contending that less than one percent of coverage from 52 major news sources dealt with global poverty issues.  During the latest national election coverage in 2012, the Center for American Progress cited a report from the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting organization that found next to no mention of poverty.  Just 17 of nearly 10,500 election pieces only barely mentioned it, including stories from everyone from ABC News to NPR.

The Center for American Progress posits that the massive discrepancies in news coverage are purposeful because the poor are thought of as lesser and disorganized, having less of a voice in the national election. However, issues like food security and prices in the U.S. tie in with food shortages globally and more popular topics dealing with the economy and jobs.

Perhaps just as telling is the World Association for Christian Communication’s assessment in the case of Nigeria.  Along with the International Press Centre in Nigeria, it examined six Nigerian news outlets and concluded that coverage of rural poverty left room for improvement.  Its study called for more Nigerian media attention to rural poverty and development issues amid broader economic news reporting.

The Atlantic profiled a project from the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone that examined major news data totaling 43 million “events” from January 1979 to mid-2013. The United States dominated global news coverage during that time while sub-Saharan Africa received the least.  The Atlantic also points to a 2008 statement from Alisa Miller, CEO of Public Radio International that touches on, “…the geography of reporting—which is formed as much by human judgment as by the caprice of current events—influences the ways in which we perceive the world…news networks have drastically scaled back their foreign bureaus in recent years.”

The fading physical footprint of international media in impoverished nations has reduced their place in the news coverage and is probably why people hear more about domestic issues.

Dave Smith

Sources: Nieman Watch, Jeffrey Sachs,New York Times, Center for American Progress, Media Career Services, The Atlantic
Photo: United Nations


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