The Problem with US Media’s Coverage of Ebola

ebola pic
Courtesy of wikipedia.org

by Natalie Honan

Staff Reporter

In the previous months, the Ebola virus has devastated Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, with a total of 3,330 deaths as of October 1, 2014, according to the World Health Organization. Men, women, and children of Western Africa are dying at the hands of this disease, which is spread through bodily fluids of Ebola victims.

With the disease still rampant, the Ebola outbreak is still a popular topic in the United States media.  However, American media depends upon a sensationalistic lens, which focuses on how the spread of this disease affects American citizens, rather than giving proper emphasis to the people living with the Ebola in Western Africa.

How is it that a health crisis brutally affecting thousands of people 7,000 miles away is still all about us? The amount of reports regarding how Ebola is affecting individuals in the United States is ridiculously high compared to the few stories about how the virus is impacting West African families.

The Washington Post recently published an article criticizing the skewed perspective of our media’s presentation of the Ebola outbreak, in which reporter Ishmael Beah wrote the following, “the crisis would not be treated as a problem confronting all humanity — a force majeure — but as one of “those diseases” that afflict “those people” over there in Africa. Most Western media immediately fell into fear-mongering.” (Ishmael Beah) 

Beah effectively describes the outlook of the American media when representing the Ebola outbreak. While most Americans have acknowledged the degree of seriousness of the epidemic, western media has deemed it irrelevant due to its geographical location.

Beah continues to describe how the media coverage has also revealed racist attitudes and assumptions of many American and European people.

“In Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “We apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.” (Ishmeal Beah)

This seems to hint towards an alarming trend of belief, that all of Africa has similar political, social, cultural, and economic structures. Some members of Western society forget the fact that Africa is a diverse continent, and each country has a unique identity and faces unique challenges.

For instance, USA Today published a piece entitled, “Ebola: 5 Things You Need to Know Right Now” which was also broadcasted on their network on the morning of October 2, 2014. “What are the chances the Ebola virus will spread in the United States and am I at risk?”,  “Should the people who came in contact with the latest victim of Ebola on the plane or at the airport be concerned?”, and “How well prepared are US hospitals?”

As a result of ample medical resources in the United States, the majority of the few American Ebola patients are safe. However, it’s concerning that we are more troubled by this than the death of over three thousand people. Questions such as these asked in the article would lead one to believe that the matter of one’s death or the death of thousands is not as important if it’s happening far enough away.

I have heard journalists cite the importance of putting “the “me” in media,” or finding ways in which stories “hit home.” However, there is a real danger of centering the media on ourselves when we are not the ones suffering.

   

 

Beah, Ishmael. “The West Ignores the Stories of Africans in the Middle of the Ebola Outbreak.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 02 Oct. 2014.

Dur, Jessica. “Ebola Outbreak: 5 Things You Need to Know Now.” USA Today. Gannett, 01 Oct. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

 

 

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