Western media has long way to go in reporting non-Western news accurately

Too often, news outside of Western countries is erased if West has nothing to gain economically by reporting it

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KESTRA ENGSTROM

Economic interests play too great a role in what Westerners read in the news. World news is important for the sake of knowledge and educating the public and should not be about profit.

KESTRA ENGSTROM, Evergreen columnist

Americans are notorious for a lack of geographical knowledge. 

It’s hard to say exactly how bad, but a quick Google search finds claims that as low as just 35 percent of Americans can name every state in their own country. When identifying other countries, we undoubtedly know even fewer.

Some of this is probably due to our education. I know more than a few Americans whose international education amounted to the Animaniacs “Countries of the World” song and two years of high school Spanish that were forgotten as soon as possible.

We could blame our education all day, but the truth is, things don’t improve much once we leave the public education system. 

Oftentimes if something happens in the international community, Western news sources don’t even bother reporting on it unless it has a direct economic effect on them — especially if that country isn’t considered part of the West.

Consider the Israel-Palestine conflict, which was dominating Western news cycles in late May and early June.

Western news outlets have shown a strong pro-Israel bias for years, persisting even as public opinion (inside and outside of the West) seems to shift. 

According to Jesse Spohnholz, professor of history and director of WSU’s History 105 program, there are a variety of reasons for the West’s staunch allyship with Israel. 

Some of it has to do with a deep sympathy for victims of the Holocaust following World War II. More of it has to do with the land of Israel’s role in the Christian faith.

However, I feel the most important reason Spohnholz discussed has to do with Western economic interests in the conflict.

“Some of those relate to Cold War alliances in the Middle East, as the United States attempted to retain control and influence over the Middle East, especially to access petroleum reserves in the Middle East and to reduce the influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East,” Spohnholz said.

Peter Chilson, WSU writing and literature professor, concurs with the significance of economic interests in Western media reporting.

“Our economic interests really feed a lot of the way we cover the news,” Chilson said. “[American] oil interests overseas, the various different things that impact employment here and investments here and the way we all make money, oil has a lot to do with it.”

Chilson is a journalist himself and has done a lot of reporting in Western Africa, a place that is also of particular economic interest to the West.

“In West Africa … gold and cotton production have a big impact on the way the Western European media, which is heavily invested in those two things, cover West Africa, France in particular. The United States has a lot of gold interest in West Africa also,” he said.

China, as well, is one of the U.S.’ biggest economic competitors and is unsurprisingly one of the most heavily reported-on countries outside the West (even before COVID-19 emerged there).

The way Westerners get their news has also changed significantly in the past decade or so, especially with the rise of social media. There are several pros and cons to this.

“I had a student this summer … who did a wonderful paper on the harm social media has done to the American psyche by siloing people in these narrow little news holes that don’t read across the board,” Chilson said.

Social media can absolutely have that effect — I can attest that I tend to customize my social media topics so that I’m only getting news from sources or people that align with my own views.

However, social media also gives marginalized people whose voices aren’t often represented in mainstream media a chance to share their stories in ways they’ve never been able to before. 

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a great example of this. Thanks to social media, many Palestinians are now able to project their voice and share their experiences in a way Western media has never allowed them to do, and as a result, public opinion is slowly beginning to shift more in their favor.

Still, Western media has a long way to go in accurately and adequately reporting on non-Western news.

In order to gain a fuller understanding of the world that many news sources can’t or won’t provide, Chilson recommends taking advantage of resources like AllSides.com, a website that analyzes news from left, right and center perspectives in order to educate on biases in journalism. Westerners can also make an effort to get their news from a variety of sources, escaping the “siloing” effect of the age of information.