Is obsession with the Covid-19 (CV) pandemic inoculating whole nations against wider world issues? Certainly, in the UK, and Continental Europe, and the United States until recently, this last year has been one of looking inward, with Government energies and mainstream media directed so strongly on the statistics of death and infection rates, hospitalisation and other health impacts, as well as indirect consequences of the pandemic and decision-making related to it in the domestic environment. No other serious news stories run for very long. It is rare that broadcast news does not begin its programme with a lengthy analysis of that day’s CV information, with the highlight so often a pessimistic version of a failure of some description, although UK vaccine roll-out success is now hard to avoid. Ongoing global humanitarian and other disasters barely get a mention.
SHOULD DEMOCRACIES SPEAK OUT WITH ONE VOICE?
This introspection gets reflected in the lack of united responses today among developed Western countries to the behaviour of autocratic, and often abusive, rulers and international incidents. For example, the British press recently carried the story, and the Guardian had it as its front-page headline, of the publication by U.S. Intelligence agencies of its report into the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 with their conclusion that Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince and likely future Saudi King, approved that murder. Not a surprising result given that the perpetrators – all people close to him – were recorded by Turkish listening devices in the Saudi embassy plotting the journalist’s demise. At the time it was a shocking assassination, eliciting outrage in not just the fact of murder at the embassy but the violence of the executioners. Incidents regarded by Western nations as human rights abuses are common in Saudi, and this was one more but there have been few consequences.
The new U.S. President, Joe Biden, is evidently repositioning the relationship of the U.S. with Saudi. While supporting it defensively, he has stopped arms sales for use in the Yemen war. And the U.S. has imposed sanctions on over 20 of the Crown Prince’s acolytes, but no direct action has been taken against the Crown Prince. Some time ago the UK imposed sanctions on many Saudi individuals, but still sells arms to Saudi. The “boss” behind the assassination remains untouched. Other Western countries are largely silent. But there was lots of media publicity for a weekend.
Around the world there seems to be little concerted effort to bring to book those powerful rulers who commit humanitarian crimes, and the amount of media focus on them is patchy. The Assad regime in Syria had headlines for a few years for its assault on its own people, and he continues with impunity supported by certain foreign powers, but with little news coverage. The International Criminal Court has no case against Assad as Syria is not signed up to the ICC. China’s rulers suffer no penalty for continuous crimes against the Uighur Muslims: not even concentration camps can excite a concerted world response and nations continue in effect fairly normal relations with them, with the EU signing up to a mutual Investment Agreement recently with China. Again, China is not signed up to the ICC and so, even if nations were minded to bring humanitarian crimes charges, ICC has no jurisdiction. It is recognised openly how China seeks to undermine Western and other powers and democracies but there is no united front to oppose this.
Myanmar’s ruling military have had media exposure recently as they murder protesters, and their humanitarian crimes, possibly genocide, against the Rohingya Muslims are recorded but have slid largely into the background. The list of rulers perpetrating violent crime against humanity is much longer. Little attention is given to them as Covid dominates. There is not even a common front of opposition to Vladimir Putin in the West despite his open efforts to destabilise.
Obviously, the United Nations is powerless in most situations as key villains of the piece have veto rights or the backing of countries they have corrupted. But should not Western nations who stand for democracy, even though imperfect themselves, at least be working together, and be seen to be, with a common voice of at least condemnation, but perhaps more consequential action? Those nations, if espoused values carry any weight, include the U.S., the UK, the EU and its 27 nations, Australia, Canada, India and Japan. Together they should be capable of getting the core mainstream media, and social media, to give the airtime to expose atrocities for what they are, and not relegate them to relative unimportance behind CV. Introspection is encouraging crime worldwide.
CV is regarded as a crisis but reaction to it is distorting visibility of the world’s ongoing, largely man-made, disasters. The UN cites Yemen as the current worst humanitarian disaster: 24 million people needing aid; 14 million with acute need, and 10 million one step from famine. Worldwide there are tens of millions of refugees, most not even enjoying the “luxury” of living in an ordered camp – which could be well run, but even so the inhabitants are homeless. The circumstances of many of these people are of course not unconnected to the behaviours and corruptions of the criminal rulers referred to earlier.
It is interesting how much publicity is given to the humanitarian and moral concerns being vociferously expressed about CV vaccine inequality between rich and poor nations. Compare perhaps the lack of daily visible public concern for those who go hungry every day: it is hard to say how many are starving but, accounting for various sources of information, maybe some 20 million people are on the verge of famine in the Sudan alone, and about 800 million worldwide are truly hungry, some 150 million being children. Most are in Asia and the Pacific, but Africa comes a very sizeable second. There is COVAX at least for vaccines. There are many individual charities, UN and other initiatives for food equality or at least minimal availability, but a real lack of daily public attention: yet CV, which kills relatively few by comparison to starvation, hits the news every day.
TIME TO GET PERSPECTIVE?
Is it not time to reduce the daily diet of domestic introspective “woe is me” media about how people are affected by CV, and get the bigger global picture back in front of people? Do not the BBC, SKY, newspapers and other supposedly serious news feeders have a duty to do this? What is most astonishing is that when the Duke of Edinburgh goes to hospital, or is just moved from one to another, a top line daily account is broadcast across the UK; even more remarkable is that, for some 14 days in advance of its showing, an interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on American television about their personal story absorbs hours of broadcast time and thousands of column inches of journalistic trivia. After its broadcast that personal account of two individuals’ worries about themselves continues to dominate journalism.
Media aside, and most important perhaps, Western and Eastern leaders of major democracies with humanitarian values must surely allocate resource and serious thought to shoulder-to-shoulder views and actions; whether its climate change, crimes against humanity or simple recklessness and corruption, or humanitarian disasters which are leaving too many around the world with little or no hope. Introspection needs to be cancelled which can be done by shifting focus from cow-towing to the pandemic to mastery of it via vaccines. Then also UKGOV may find the resource to really contribute to some of the truly consequential issues besetting the world. Introspection must stop blinding insight into bigger picture events.