Why Gaza not Sri Lanka?

The fighting in Sri Lanka’s civil war has intensified again. This is the war that has killed 70,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands. The war with the ceasefire that failed in 2007-2008. The war in a Commonwealth country. The war with its roots in the British legacy. The war with the internationally brokered ceasefires and peacekeepers and observers.  The war with the complex confusing history and only shades of grey.

The war that we don’t see on the news.

New Zealand has more than 7,000 people who identified as Sri Lankan in the 2006 census, while only 1,599 identified as “Israeli/Jewish/Hebrew” and 2,607 who identified as Arab (and not a subset – we don’t ask for Palestinian).

We exported NZ$168 million of goods to Sri Lanka in the 2004-5 year. To Israel the value was NZ$16.85 million in 2007.

Sri Lanka is closer, more people in New Zealand identify their cultural heritage as Sri Lankan, and we have more trade ties with it. Yet Gaza dominates the news and the bombing and shooting and civilian deaths in Sri Lanka go unremarked.

I happened to be in Sri Lanka when the the war stepped up in 2007. I was check pointed and searched and patted down more times than I can count, I had conversations with Sinhalese and Tamil, with parents, grandparents, children, soldiers and police. I saw guns and fighter planes and armoured vehicles and sandbags – and vegetable gardens and elephants and children playing in the sea.

I write about Sri Lanka because I know about its war, but there are others we are ignoring too. What is it about their victims that make them not worth our time?

11 thoughts on “Why Gaza not Sri Lanka?

  1. azeera Newshour on my TV every morning. As reported here in print:


    But yes, it doesn’t get the coverage of Gaza. Usually I don’t pay more attention to Israel-Palestine than to other places. But this latest assault on Gaza is so blatantly and brutally one-sided, largley because of its US support, that it is impossible to say nothing about such a visible massacre.

  2. Carol But this latest assault on Gaza is so blatantly and brutally one-sided

    And the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in Congo is not “one-sided”?

    The real reason why Gaza is in the news is that Congo, Darfur and Sri Lanka are of little or no interest to Americans. Sad, but true.

  3. I think MacDoctor has it mostly right, but I’d expand upon his argument a bit.

    If you subscribe to the `clash of civilisations’ thesis (I have some problems with it, but they’re moot to the point I’m making here because plenty of people do subscribe), Gaza is the live front in the struggle for supremacy between the `civilised’ Judeo-Christian, peace-loving, rational, liberal democratic capitalist civilisations on the one hand and the `uncivilised’ Islamic, warlike, irrational, illiberal undemocratic statist civilisations on the other. Moreover, Gaza is the current exemplar of the notion that `they’ are making victims of `us’, who just want to be left alone to go about our business.

    Although personally on an individual basis we might not be so aligned, due to its cultural and ideological place in the world NZ has a dog in this fight, and not in those other conflicts you cite, as meritorious of our attention as they may be for other reasons.


  4. MacDoctor: And the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in Congo is not “one-sided”?

    No, it’s not. The killing in Congo isn’t being perpetrated exclusively by one `side’, there are a main rebel faction and assorted others killing each others’ people, the national army killing members of all those groups, and cross-border inter-tribal warfare and opportunist warlordism being perpetrated on the side. Innocent civilians are getting killed by all of those groups. So it’s completely different to Gaza, or the Israel-Palestine conflict in general.

    You might have had a stronger case if you’d picked Darfur, but even there it’s not as simple as Gaza, where it’s crystal clear: the IDF are killing large numbers of Palestinian militants and civilians, some on purpose, some accidentally, while the Palestinian resistance groups are killing very few Israelis indeed.


  5. Part of the answer to your question: Because CNN, ABC, CBS and the other networks with whom TVNZ and CanWest have affiliate arrangements have multiple crews and reporters all over the Middle East. Thus it’s simply a matter of sucking down lots of exciting militaristic images / heart wrenching civilian casualty images off the satellite, editing them into a package and bingo, a third of your bulletin filled for no added cost.

    To cover our own backyard requires not just an acknowledgement of its importance (and I agree with your implication that that may be lacking) but, more practically, a commitment of staff and resources.

    I certainly don’t blame the journalists or their editors. It’s management who feel money is better spent propping up the career of some overpaid has been “presenter” to give away prize money in some lame gameshow format copied from overseas. The prize money handed out on such a show would probably keep a reporter and crew based in the Indian subcontinet for a year – specially if we shared the cost with Australia’s ABC, who do an excellent job of covering the Asia / Pacific region as a quick search will show.

  6. But but but :)

    The BBC is doing an entirely serviceable job of covering Sri Lanka. They have footage of tanks and big guns and fighter planes and dead bodies and the effects of suicide bombs. They have commentary and analysis and interviews with both sides.

    It’s clearly unfortunate that their tone is measured and their commentary clear and calm.

    I’m not saying Sri Lanka should be leading the news every night (or Congo, Darfu, etc). But shouldn’t we get told something about it now and then?

  7. I’m sorry, I posted my above comment in a rush this morning before I went to work, and I somehow deleted the first part of the first sentence. I tried to say that Al Jazeera usually have something on Sri Lanka most mornings lately (which I watch on Triangle TV).

    They also often have stuff on those other countries mentioned too. Normally I do get annoyed that Israel-Palestine/Middle East tends to get more news coverage than other places, especially on our TV news. But I think the current intensification of the conflict is in need of attention, and may turn out to be a key moment in international relations, as well as being a brutal abuse of power.

    The NZ MSM doesn’t so much focus on the Middle East at the expense of other countries. Rather it focuses too much on local rime, holiday dramas, rescues, mishaps, accidents and deaths. It seems to be able to address these small, personal dramas (obviously often devastating to the people involved), more than it covers the range of diverse and significant conflicts and political violence internationally.

  8. Pingback: The Camera Loves You Gaza.... | MonkeyWithTypewriter

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