It’s no great assumption that there is disproportionate coverage on the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But how are other conflict-ridden regions of the
world affected by this? For more than 20 years, various areas of my city – Rio
de Janeiro, Brazil – have been constantly doubling from residential
neighborhoods to war zones.
The utter poverty of our shantytowns has lead much of our forlorn youth to narcotrafficking and violence from an early age upending any hope for progress. The situation in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro is a humanitarian disaster that since the 1980’s, seemingly carries on endlessly and unrestrained.
Yet while poverty, violence, disease and death occur at outraging numbers turning my city into shambles, the tragedy of the hillside slums in Rio are largely accepted as the status quo by the media, the international community and the Brazilian government.
A recent documentary about the favelas in Rio, “Favela Rising”, was nominated for an Oscar and decorated with several awards including Film of the Year by the International Film Association for its glaring look at the violence of a favela called Vigário Geral.
The film, which offers powerful imagery of the brutality of the gangs and the police in Rio while tracing the mission of a local music group AfroReggae to inspire youngsters to stay away from drug-dealing, has received excellent reviews in the Boston Globe, New York Times, and the Washington Post.
Interestingly, at the very beginning of the acclaimed documentary, a screen shot of bold white letters printed over a black background offers perturbing statistics. It notes that while 467 minors were killed in Israel and Palestine from 1987 to 2001 (date which includes the first Palestinian intifada), 3,937 minors died as a result of gang warfare in Rio de Janeiro alone. An outstanding 8 to 1 ratio.
While many interesting reviews have been written up about the documentary, not one seems to give enough focus to this alarming fact and the message that the Brazilian directors intended to convey by this shot.
Why does a documentary that stresses the suffering and longing of the youth in the favelas of Rio care about the deaths of minors in Israel and the Palestinian territories? Because disproportionate media attention has been given to hyped conflicts such as the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Kosovo crisis, framing the public perception to believe that those conflicts are in fact the ones in most dire need of international aid.
Attesting to the public’s misguidance, a questionnaire given at a War and Peace course at an Australian university, asked 37 students to list what they thought were the 3 deadliest conflicts in the world as well as the conflict they thought in terms of humanitarian conditions, was in most need of a solution. The most prevalent answer to the first question was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with 9 students saying it was the deadliest conflict.
To the second question, 21 students responded that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was most urgently in need of a solution (1). In both cases, the students, who presumably study topics within international relations seem to have a misperception that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most ghastly of all. The students are hazardously wrong.
In fact, since the 90’s, conflicts in places obscure to the public consciousness such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and my city, Rio de Janeiro, have been much more gruesome and claimed far more lives than the conflict in Israel-Palestine or Kosovo.
My city bleeds and the international psyche largely ignores its anguish. Instead, the world devotes a disproportionate amount of resources to places with far higher standards of living. To be fair, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Kosovo War have been tragic and are embedded with a significant dimension of civilizational fissure. But is a Palestinian or Israeli child more valuable than a Brazilian child? Is it fair to dump aid and diplomatic efforts disproportionately on one region of the world?
I blame it on the media. In an age where the news media has become increasingly influential in forming public opinion, it has failed at its task to distribute relevant information fairly. Instead, the news media today has ubiquitously become a supplier of a mélange of entertainment and information – sometimes emphasizing the former far more than the latter.
The portmanteau “infotainment” accurately describes the state of the mass media of today, carefully choosing stories that will attract the most readers and sell the most advertisements instead of stories that are gravely affecting the world.
If there is a humanitarian disaster in my city relatively comparable in suffering to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I challenge the publishers of mainstream newspapers to cover it more in depth. I dare editors and journalists to help students such as the aforementioned Australian students understand the precarious conditions under which children from favelas have to grow up with.
I commend the attention that has been given to the documentary “Favela Rising” and urge others to keep reporting on the subject. I know that every Kassam (home-made rocket) that kills an Israeli or every IDF missile that kills a Palestinian will most likely make it to the pages of the New York Times.
So I humbly request to Arabs and Israelis alike, will you compassionately share some space with my Rio de Janeiro compatriots?
Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, David Wainer is a graduate from Boston University and a journalist. He has been published in The Nation, The Jerusalem Post, and New Voices.