Hunting Clicks: Some Uncomfortable Truths, While You Mourn The Dead In Barcelona


All men are created equal, but some men – and some women and children – are created much more ‘equal’ than others, and their grief is especially more newsworthy, writes Chris Graham.

I write the same story every year or so. Terrorists target innocent civilians in a western country. People are killed. Mainstream media scramble to activate live blogs. Social media lights up with fear and loathing. And on it goes until the Next Big Slaughter.

Without fail, on either side of those terrorist attacks on innocent Westerners are – and will be – terrorist attacks on ‘not-so-innocent’ non-Westerners, ‘brown people’ from countries we’ve either never heard of, or attacked in recent weeks, months or years.

Here’s a few cases in point.

This morning (AEST), in Spain, terrorists have killed at least 16 people (and injured an estimated 100, at the time of press) by driving a van through a crowded plaza (Las Ramblas) in the centre of Barcelona. Islamic State claimed shortly after.

Late last week, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a neo-Nazi also drove his car into a crowd of peaceful protestors, killing one and injuring at least 33 people.

These two attacks have a few things in common. The perpetrators were all terrorists. The victims were innocent bystanders. The results were tragic. And western media was very, very interested.

Meanwhile, in the brown world….

On August 1, a mosque in Herat, Afghanistan was targeted. We don’t know the actual death toll from mainstream media reporting – dead Aghans are apparently much harder, and less important, to count. But about three dozen people were killed, and at least 60 injured.

Since then, there’s been at least another 11 attacks in Afghanistan. But, it’s a country at war, so why should we be surprised?

Well, we helped start that war, and after more than a decade and a half, you might think ‘our humanitarian mission’ – with bombs and tanks and drones – is largely complete. In fact, 2017 represents the highest number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan since we – and other western nations – started bombing it in 2001.

As far as slaughter goes, we haven’t made things better in Afghanistan. We’ve made them demonstrably worse. There’s been a steady rise almost every year in the number of civilian deaths.

A United Nations report recently released into the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

That’s why you should care.

But you don’t have to go back three weeks, or even to a nation at war to find the staggering double standards of media coverage of ‘terrorism’. We only have to go back a few days.

On Monday (August 14) in Paris, a man drove his vehicle into a crowded restaurant, killing a child. It was found not to be terrorist attack, but it drew Australian media interest regardless (so did a non-fatal attack on six French soldiers a week earlier, which was a terrorist attack).

On the very same day, 18 people were killed and 25 injured when Al Qaeda militants opened fire on a Turkish restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in West Africa. A search of the ABC news website reveals it last reported on a terrorist attack in Burkina Faso in January 2016.

Also on August 14, a bomb was detonated in a crowded market in Yemen. 13 people were killed, and an “unspecified” number injured. In case you’re interested, Australia is selling weaponry to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s great human rights abusers and the country leading the ongoing assault on civilians in Yemen, along with a blockade which Amnesty International has warned put 7 million people at the brink of starvation.

Change Square, in Sanaa, Yemen on March 16, 2011. (IMAGE: Sallam, Flickr)
Change Square, in Sanaa, Yemen on March 16, 2011. (IMAGE: Sallam, Flickr)

And still on August 14, Al Qaeda gunmen attacked a United Nations peacekeeping compound in Timbuktu, Mali, killing seven people.

And still on August 14, at least eight soldiers were killed and four people injured during a roadside blast in the Balochistan province in Pakistan. Balochistan, in particular its capital Quetta, is home to a large Hazara population, one of the world’s most persecuted minorities and the primary targets of a brutal campaign by the Pakistani Taliban. This photo from an attack on a market in Quetta in 2010, shows the result of that brutality.

The Meezan Chouk attack in Quetta, In September 2010. In the background is a billboard sponsored by the Australian Government, warning locals of the danger of getting on a boat to seek asylum.
The Meezan Chouk attack in Quetta, In September 2010. In the background is a billboard sponsored by the Australian Government, warning locals of the danger of getting on a boat to seek asylum.

The sign in the background was put up by the Rudd Government, to warn Hazaras not to attempt to come to Australia by boat… because it’s too dangerous.

One day later (August 15), in Nigeria, a suicide bombing by Boko Haram killed 27 people, and injured 83. If you go the ABC’s Nigeria page, the most recent story posted was in July – it focused on a US State Department report that claimed deaths related to terrorism globally had declined in 2016 (and I know it might feel like I’m picking unfairly on the ABC – what about all the other news outlets? Good question, but bear in mind, only one news organisation in Australia receives $1 billion in taxpayer funding, every year).

By way of background, Boko Haram is a militant group responsible for countless atrocities. In January 2015, they slaughtered more than 2,000 people in the fishing village of Baga. It came a week after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, which claimed 12 lives. If you get your news from mainstream Australian news outlets, you can be forgiven for only hearing of one of those atrocities.

You can’t, however, be excused.

In the age of online media, our access to news is only restricted by the issues in which we express an interest. You flood your social media pages with Barcelona attack stories, then that’s what the media will focus on.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t – the attack in Barcelona is a tragedy, and many Australians will feel a strong connection to Spain. But when you’re part of a nation that routinely wages war on others, it’s not acceptable in the digital age to be selective in your grief. That’s the very definition of wilful ignorance.

Start raising awareness about Afghanistan, Nigeria, Palestine and the rest by supporting media outlets that don’t ignore them. Sites like Al Jazeera and the Electronic Intifada (primarily about Palestine) are a very good start.

Just as we get the governments we deserve, we also get the media we deserve.

Journalists are inherently reactionary beasts. We’ll always respond to market demand. So start demanding.

* PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING THIS STORY ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Chris Graham is the editor and owner of New Matilda, an independent Australian Media outlet. He Facebooks here, tweets here, and you can support his work by subscribing for as little as $6 per month here

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.