Meagre media attention contributed to Congo death toll, authors say

A glaring lack of media attention paid to the worst conflict since the Second World War may explain why international efforts to prevent it can be described as feeble at best, according to four UWindsor professors who have co-authored a book on the subject.

Africa’s Deadliest Conflict explores the international media’s coverage of the humanitarian disaster in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1997 and 2008, the result of a series of wars there which claimed the lives of 5.5 million people, with an additional 2 million displaced from their homes.

The book was written by political science professors emeritus Walter Soderlund and Donald Briggs, along with current political science professor Tom Najem and Blake Roberts, a professor in the university’s digital journalism program.

Besides providing a history of the series of wars there, the book examines the role mass media plays in creating a will to intervene, a role considered by many to be the key to prodding a reluctant international community to action.

The authors examined both print and television coverage of the conflict, looking specifically at The New York Times as well as major U.S. networks. Between 1997 and 2008, CBS, NBC, and ABC aired a total of 89 stories on the Congo, and out of those, 12 of them were about a volcanic eruption near Goma, and 47 were two minutes or less.

“What we’re looking at is no alert at all,” said Dr. Soderlund, who will appear today on CJAM to discuss the book. “With that meagre television alert there’s simply no point in talking about the media acting as an advocacy group for any kind of intervention.”

Soderlund will appear on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM and showcases the work of University of Windsor researchers.