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For crying out loud
North American news coverage of earthquake in Iran

By Mitra Sadrameli
December 26, 2003
The Iranian

Disasters strike at odd and unexpected times. We watch in horror as images of death and destruction fills our TV sets. We recoil in fear of the sheer terror on the faces of the victims. And we know that soon sorrow will follow. The kind that most of us are lucky enough not to experience. Without malice we thank God that this has happened to them and not to us. We thank God that our sheer dumb luck has led us to live in a place different than today's tragedy.

Yet the sadness that I feel today is of a general sort. A sadness that comes with a realization that life's worth is not always based on life itself, rather on whose life is at stake.

The black out of the east coast earlier this year, with a handful of casualties if any, received "breaking news" status. The on slought of discussions of whose power is out, who started the problem, the inconvenience of the whole thing received non stop coverage. And the good Samaritans, who took off the ties, left their briefcases and directed traffic became news.

The New Yorkers and Torontonians taking the black out in stride became involved in an act heroism worthy of pride. In reality though, what else could they have done? Ironically no one mentioned that while for a week or so the east coast suffered the indignities of a black out, the Iraqi's had been grappling with the same problem for more than 4 months. There were no good Samaritan stories reported from Iraq.

Today's 6.5-Richter rarthquake made the bylines of CNN. While the one cow infected with Mad Cow disease received mention, the 20,000 dead in Iran received a byline. A perfunctory mention at best was how the news was covered. There were no special music, there were no catchy titles, and there were no "breaking news". It was mentioned somewhere between Coby Bryant and giving up smoking. The 20,000 dead, children, fathers, mothers, elderly were not commanding our attention.

For crying out loud, what has to happen in other parts of the world before we devote real time discussing their plight? Why is it that the power outage receives non-stop attention for three days and on the other hand 20,000 dead, more than 70% of a city demolished, a UN designated world heritage site's leveling flat, receives a passing mention?

What is our yardstick for placing value on life? How do we decide whose life to value and how much? How do we decide what news is worthy of covering? Have we become so callous that the loss of life of this many do not affect us anymore? Or is it that just because it happened over there it is none of our concern?

CNN headlines did not mention the news of the earthquake in its recount of the day's top stories. Even the failed Beagle on Mars received repeated mention, yet the 20,000 dead and the grieving in Iran received a footnote at best. While news websites had opened their day's news with the earthquake, CNN was more concerned whether we were worried to eat beef now that one cow out of millions in the US had tested positive for Mad Cow disease.

While I do not mean to imply there is a vacuum of information on this earthquake, it seems humanity is a sentiment we reflect on fondly only for a chosen few.

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By Mitra Sadrameli



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