Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Darfur Disconnect

This appeared on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 26 September 2006. Apart from a throat-clearing introductory piece, it was my first post there.

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As I've been thinking about how to develop this blog, I've also been trying to get some notes together for a panel discussion on Darfur I am taking part in at the Frontline Club in London on Thursday.

Surely the whole underlying assumption of this blog -- if not the west's super-media-saturated society in general -- is that the media matter a great deal. The media are influential, and the assumption of many in the NGO and international aid community is traditionally, "if only people knew about this distant crisis, leaders would have to do something about it, and it would end".

Darfur is proving this idea wrong.

The Darfur crisis gets huge media: in print, online, on air. No one living in a society with free media who is even marginally conscious can say he or she has not heard of Darfur, and after the 17 September Global Day for Darfur in particular, there is mass awareness on an almost unprecedented scale.

And yet, the basic equation so many of us work under, that public knowledge equals political action, has fallen apart. There is concern by politicians and some diplomatic activity, but even after nearly three years now, the world has yet to stop the killing, and over two million Darfurians are still suffering in displacement camps. So, we have a widely watched tragedy, but a tragedy it remains. This Darfur disconnect should seriously shake our unquestioning faith in the media's influence.

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