Sandy storms the States, but what about Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti…?

So at this morning’s news meeting my colleague Niluccio asked a very salient question: 'If a lamp-post falls through a person's house in Jamaica and no one hears of it, did it really happen?' Now there’s a question!

You may well be wondering why we were discussing lamp-posts falling through homes in Jamaica when the news today is all about 'Frankenstorm' in the USA.  Well that’s the reason why. Many newspapers and news channels are providing pretty much blanket coverage of the impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York, Washington DC and other parts of the east coast of the US.

However when Hurricane Sandy blighted Jamaica last week a lamp-post fell, cutting straight through my aunt’s house. My aunt was in the house at the time. Thank God, she was perfectly fine. But the house isn’t, of course.  And there’s no Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Jamaica.

But despite Sandy blighting the life of my aunt and hundreds of others across the Caribbean, rendering people homeless and, in some cases, sick, it got very little international media attention at the time. The Guardian today gives some space to the impact of Sandy upon the Caribbean in its reports on how 69 people have been killed as a result of this hurricane and that the Caribbean was the hardest hit.  But undoubtedly the 16 lives (so far) that have been taken in the US have been given yards more column-inches than the 50 odd who died across Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba and other countries. And would that devastation have been given any coverage had the storm not struck NYC?

Yes hurricanes do hit the Caribbean on a regular basis, yet we hardly ever hear about the devastation caused at those times. It’s an age-old problem which we at Amnesty have commented on before. Some journalists have defended the level of Sandy coverage by saying that they are reporting on what their audience wants to hear. And that it’s unusual for NY to be hit by such a ferocious storm that the media has to cover it.

Now to a point, I agree with that.  It’s not every day that New York is impacted by weather forcing the closure of the NY Stock Exchange, for example. And let me just add that – just as I have family in Jamaica who’ve been affected by Sandy,  I have many more relatives affected by Sandy in New York and across the USA east coast, so my personal concern extends to those in the USA as well as Jamaica. But 16 lives in the USA are no more important than 16 lives in Haiti, for example, and the news cycle has to start reflecting that.

We in Amnesty’s press team have to push hard to bring to light some of the worst human rights violations being committed in the 'less-popular' countries such as Guatemala or Burkina Faso, while reports of abuses in places like the UK or Afghanistan are more likely to be picked up by the media.

This is frustrating. But we’re a pretty indefatigable bunch. And we’ll keep talking about abuses in Indonesia, Peru, Timbuktu… wherever abuses are committed. Because I’m sure that we’re not the only bunch of Brits who want to hear about what else is going on in the world, away from the ‘popular countries’.

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