‘European lives matter’: Ukraine coverage reveals Western media’s racist bias
"But this isn't a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European -- I have to choose those words carefully, too -- city, one where you wouldn't expect that, or hope that it's going to happen."
This is how CBS News' senior foreign correspondent Charlie D'Agata passionately described Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Points to note: Ukraine is "relatively civilized", as opposed to Iraq (FYI Mesopotamia is considered the birthplace of civilization). One wouldn't expect something like this to happen in a "European" city (but it's perfectly normal if it happens somewhere in the Middle East or Africa). And lastly, he assured that he was "choosing those words carefully".
By now, the video clip has been shared and condemned around the world. Netizens have even turned it into a meme. But more importantly, it has confirmed something we have suspected all along -- that Western media has a racial bias problem.
You might ask, is one correspondent's problematic coverage enough to hold the entire Western media accountable? Let's delve into the treasure-trove of comments and observations that validate this.
On French news channel BFM TV, reporter Philippe Corbe said, "We're not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we're talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives."
"We're not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we're talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives."
Just when you thought you've seen it all in this world. Beyond belief. pic.twitter.com/8COA7arGP5
— Rayane Moussallem (@RioMoussallem) February 26, 2022
An ITV News reporter said, "Now the unthinkable has happened to them, and this is not a developing, Third World nation; this is Europe."
Al Jazeera anchor Peter Dobbie said, "What's compelling is, just looking at them, the way they are dressed, these are prosperous … I'm loath to use the expression … middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees looking to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to."
UK journalist Daniel Hannan wrote in The Telegraph: "They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking… Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone."
Do people in non-European countries not watch Netflix or not have Instagram accounts? Shocking indeed.
NBC correspondent Kelly Cobiella, meanwhile, said on air, "These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine…They're Christian, they're white, they're very similar."
She didn't get the memo. "To put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine... They're Christian, they're white, they're very similar." pic.twitter.com/1Ch88mtx5K
— Arwa Ibrahim (@arwaib) February 27, 2022
The idea that some victims of war or conflict are more deserving of sympathy, and in essence, some lives are more valuable than others is not just limited to news coverage, opinion pieces and soundbites. It is naturally also reflected in the host countries' approach towards the refugees.
While the leaders of neighbouring Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are embracing Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian invasion, it should be noted refugees from Syria and Africa do not get this red-carpet treatment.
"These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans," Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said about Ukrainians. "These people are intelligent, they are educated people... This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists…"
"…There is not a single European country now which is afraid of the current wave of refugees," he said.
A refugee is a refugee -- European, African or Asian. Perhaps, Western media needs to get the memo.
Karim Waheed is Digital Editor at The Daily Star.