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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Darfur in the Dark

A Coalition for Darfur Post

Two weeks ago, the "Be a Witness" campaign reported that it couldn't even pay TV networks to cover the genocide in Darfur
American Progress created a television advertisement for BeAWitness.org, our netroots campaign that calls out the television news media for their deplorable coverage of the genocide in Darfur. Over the last few days, three Washington DC television affiliates, NBC-4, CBS-9, and ABC-7, informed us that they refuse to air the ad.

Since the major networks seem to have their hands full covering stories like Natalee Holloway and the Runaway Bride, the ad does what the media won't — puts the spotlight on Darfur, and suggests that genocide warrants increased coverage.

ABC News broadcast just 18 minutes of Darfur coverage in its nightly newscasts in all of 2004 — "and that turns out to be a credit to Peter Jennings," as Nicholas Kristof pointed out. NBC News featured 5 minutes, and CBS only had three, "about a minute of coverage for every 100,000 deaths." Now they won't allow us to pay for 30 seconds to urge better coverage of the genocide.
While this is obviously inexcusable, it is at least somewhat understandable that TV networks
would be reluctant to run ads criticizing their own failings.

What is odd is that the networks' collective refusal to run this ad generated almost no print media coverage. And judging by the print media's own lack of coverage of Darfur, it is easy to see why.

A search of US newspapers for the number of stories that mentioned the word "Darfur" at least 2 times over the last 19 months shows how coverage of the genocide increased during 2004, only to all but disappear in 2005 (we looked for stories that mention Darfur at least twice in order try to eliminate pieces that mentioned it only in passing)
January 2004: 8
February 2004: 20
March 2004: 29
April 2004: 72
May 2004: 186
June 2004: 327
July 2004: 713
August 2004: 891
September 2004: 659
October 2004: 369
November 2004: 517
December 2004: 269
January 2005: 397
February 2005: 271
March 2005: 240
April 2005: 275
May 2005: 199
June 2005: 227
July 2005: 260
August 2005: 115
The most staggering thing about these numbers is that they reveal that there has been a nearly
eight-fold decrease
in the number of stories about Darfur between last August and this August.

The other amazing thing is that, on August 1st of this year, former Sudanese rebel leader John Garang died in a helicopter crash. Garang, who only three weeks earlier had been sworn in as vice president under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of civil war between North and South Sudan, was seen by many as a man who might be able to bring peace to Darfur. Yet, despite his death and the implications it holds for the future of Darfur, coverage of Darfur plummeted.

Nearly one year after the United States called the situation in Darfur "genocide" and the United Nations found overwhelming evidence of "serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including crimes against humanity or war crimes" in Darfur, the genocide is receiving less print coverage than it did before many had even heard the word "Darfur."

We cannot "be a witness" to the genocide in Darfur if the media continues to keep us in the dark.

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