Sri Lankan Church-Hotel Bombings Interrupt Grieving Over Notre Dame Fire



It’s always interesting to look back on what gets the West wild, writes Chris Graham.

In the past week, the destruction of the Notre Dame chapel in France has seen an outpouring of grief on social media in Australia and beyond.

The building was extensively damaged by fire early last week due to an electrical fault. At least $700 million has been donated from around the world to rebuild it.

The news event came replete with this sort of ‘tear-jerking’ coverage, from USA Today.

And then there was that other major international news story – eight separate, co-ordinated bomb attacks in Sri Lanka which have so far claimed the lives of more than 310 people.

Fundraisers have been established on various websites – their goals (and success have been much more modest. This one on GoFundMe has attracted almost $50,000, of a $500,000 target.

A search of Google’s social media engine reveals that the two events have been received quite differently in English speaking nations.

A search on the phrase ‘notre dame’ and ‘fire’ gives about 521,000 results on Facebook, and about 193,000 on Twitter. It includes ads from offering ‘coverage – live updates & developments’ a week after the actual event.

A search of the phrase ‘Sri Lanka’ and ‘attacks’ gives about 103,000 results on Facebook, and 18,500 on Twitter. It delivers a very different advertising pitch as well – tickets to the upcoming Pakistan vs Sri Lanka World Cup cricket match in Britain.

A search of ProQuest, an Australian and New Zealand media database, delivers a similar result, with one important caveat.

The phrase ‘Notre Dame’ and ‘Fire’ delivers 299 results, since last week. The phrase ‘sri lanka’ and ‘attacks’ delivers 157 results. Just 53 of those actually come from Australian publications.

In defence of the Australian media, the Notre Dame story has had longer to percolate, but there’s no denying the media and online chatter has been far stronger over Paris than Sri Lanka.

That’s a pretty common theme. After the November 2015 Paris attacks, the West mourned the slaughter of 130 people with blanket media coverage, and Facebook filters that transposed the French flag over people’s profile pics.

Two days earlier, around 89 people were killed in Beirut in a suicide bombing. It attracted virtually zero media coverage or concern from the West.

It seems all people are created equal, some – plus iconic cathedrals – are just a little bit more equal than others.

If you’re interested in following the attacks in Sri Lanka, Al Jazeera’s coverage is among the most comprehensive.

Chris Graham Facebooks here, tweets here, and is available by email here. You can support his work and the work of other New Matilda writers by subscribing here – it starts at just $6 a month.


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.