Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls

Around three weeks ago on April 15, the extreme Islamist group, Boko Haram, abducted more than 250 girls aged between 16-18 from their school in Chibok, Nigeria.

There are two things regarding this story that need to be assessed in relation to race and ethnicity in the media. The first is the fact that most mainstream news media didn’t report on this until three weeks after it had happened; meaning most of the general public had no idea what was going on. Branching off from the reporting issue, the second thing that I feel needs assessing is the fact that most mainstream news did not mention that not all, but most of the girls that were abducted are Christian.

To start off, the fact that mainstream news media did not report on this until three weeks after it happened raises a lot of questions. In week 9’s tutorial with Benjamin Ball, we discussed how the media frames ethnicity and race in the media, and discovered that in fact we are all ethnic in one way or another. Similarly, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ which Sukhmani Khorana showed in the lecture covered this issue of media framing. She tells how all that she had ever known about her live-in domestic helpers was how poor and unfortunate they were, and how this significantly distorted her understanding and perceptions of the people from rural areas in her country of Nigeria being anything but poor.

Stemming from the dangers of a single story, I cannot help but wonder if the absence of the abducted Nigerian girls reported in mainstream Western media is a product of single stories about not only Nigeria, but Africa as a whole. Was this not newsworthy enough to be reported instantly because Western newsrooms believed that this sort of thing happened all the time way over in ‘that country called Africa’? Did they think civil unrest is something commonplace in Africa so there is no need to report on only 250 plus girls? It’s interesting how hundreds of lives in an African context doesn’t faze our mainstream media enough to report instantly, yet one single white person’s life of the Western world or Westernised cultures in the media seems to be worth hundreds as it is reported instantly and heavily in the media.

When the MA-370 flight disappeared with 239 people onboard, it was all over our screens and it still is, two months later. So what does the initial lack of reporting say about the Western media? Do we as the public not need to worry ourselves with what is happening in Africa? Is this story not surprising because it is coming from Nigeria? What is it? Because I honestly do not know.

Another interesting aspect of the whole reporting issues of the abducted Nigerian girls is the fact that nearly all of them were Christian yet the US and British mainstream news media have not mentioned this.

According to The Guardian, The Christian Association of Nigeria published a list of 180 Christian girls that were abducted from Chibok on April 15, making up two-thirds of the total 276 missing. So far, the media has only really highlighted the fact that Boko Haram is an Islam extremist group which opposes Western education and the education of girls, but they haven’t chosen to mention that another reason these girls were victims is because of their Christianity. Why is this so? Without any definite answers to this question, after reading Asultany’s (2013) article on sympathetic representations of Arabs and Muslims in the media post-9/11, I have come to an understanding to a certain degree. Asultany states that Arabs and Muslims, defined as “the other”, are now portrayed more sympathetically than ever, “in order to project that the United States as an enlightened country that has entered a post-race era.” Whether the US has achieved this is another story, but this notion of sympathetic representations in media can be applied to the reporting of the missing Nigerian girls. The media obviously does not want to provoke or project an image of themselves as racist or even bringing religious war in to the mix by mentioning that the girls are Christian, as they must obviously not want to give the general public the idea that this is an attack on religion, but would rather comfortably sit with the story based on gender inequality and Islam.

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Alsultany, Evelyn. (2013). ‘Arabs and Muslims in the Media after 9/11: Representational Strategies for a “Postrace” Era’. American Quarterly, Vol. 65 No. 1. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ame rican_quarterly/v065/65.1.alsulta ny.html. Accessed May 5, 2014.

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