New York, January 19, 2005- Soaring tuberculosis (TB) deaths and the immense toll on people living through chronic conflicts in Chechnya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Northern Uganda are among the "Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2004, according to the yearly list released today by the international humanitarian medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The seventh annual list also highlights the lack of media attention in the United States paid to unrelenting crises in North Korea and Somalia, an emergency in Liberia one year after the end of civil war, the constant threat of hunger and disease in Ethiopia, and how Burundi's health financing system excludes its poorest citizens from even the most basic health care.
"The outpouring of support for people in South Asia shows the kind of positive impact media coverage can have on efforts to bring relief to people in crisis," said Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of MSF-USA. "Why can't it extend to those trapped by wars or dying by the millions from a disease like TB? Silence is the best ally of atrocities, and this is the sixth straight year our list has included the plight of people in Colombia and the DRC."
According to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the online media-tracking journal The Tyndall Report, the 10 stories highlighted by MSF accounted for just one minute of the 14,561 minutes on the three major US television networks' nightly newscasts. As the war in Iraq continued to dominate international reporting, only Chechnya received any coverage at all, while TB and the humanitarian concerns in North Korea and Colombia were briefly referred to during reports on other topics. In contrast, 130 minutes were devoted to Martha Stewart and 18 minutes to the indecency fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the National Football League's Super Bowl Halftime Show.
"Millions are living through catastrophes in places that are never even mentioned," de Torrente said. "But people we meet all over the United States tell us they are eager for information, because they want to play a part in speaking out and acting against such crises."
The insecurity faced by civilians in war zones again contributed to preventing journalists from reporting on some of the world's most dangerous regions, but even when some countries received media focus, the humanitarian dimensions were largely ignored.
"Once more, North Korea was in the spotlight all year, yet the nightmarish situation for most North Koreans was almost totally ignored," de Torrente said. "And from our experience, such injustices can only flourish when they are hidden from sight in an atmosphere of indifference."