Not that you’d know from mainstream UK media, but there’s been a fair bit o’ craic over here in Northern Ireland, as per usual.
We had elections last week. Or it might have been the week before. Forgive me if that sounds a little flippant, it’s just that we vote a lot over here. Eight times in less than six years doesn’t do much for voter enthusiasm. And there’s a possibility we might have to vote again in a few weeks.
I digress, my point today isn’t about the clustercuss that is Northern Irish politics. The above is the context for a conversation that took place in the lead up to the voting day. The chat was with my wife included the line: “Just tell me who to vote for!”
Like many others in the country (province/region/whatever the heck we are), my wife may have fallen fowl of voting fatigue. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s symptomatic of a much larger issue. Are we failing to take the on responsibility of being informed as to the world around us?
Applied to the former situation, my wife Laura isn’t interested in politics and without wanting to misrepresent her in any way, she’d agree that she finds it hard to put the time in to find out who’s out there standing up for the things she believes in. It’s easier for me as a politics graduate who works in an office that engages with political parties on a fairly regular basis.
I left that conversation sat proudly on my high horse. I knew our electoral candidates, I knew what they stood for, therefore, I’m a superior civic citizen. Right?
My illusion was shattered only a few hours later as I flicked through my TIME magazine – a subscription gifted to me by my generous wife – to read of something I had no idea was happening.
South Sudan declared famine on 20 February, the first announcement of its kind in almost six years. Apparently, this could be the beginning of a cascade of similar pronouncements to come… Yemen, northern Nigeria and Somalia are all at risk.
And then there was this.
“If nothing is done, officials at the U.N. World Food Programme have warned, some 20 million people could starve to death during the next six months.”
20 million?! What on earth?!
And then there was a terrifying bit about the technicalities of famine. “It doesn’t just mean people are going hungry. It means they are already starving to death… So by the time famine is formally declared, millions have already been suffering, perhaps for years: Oxfam first warned about a looming famine in South Sudan back in March 2015. The last time famine was formally declared, in Somalia in 2011, most of the 260,000 victims had already died. By the time the inevitable photos of emaciated bodies and wizened children with extended bellies appear in the media, it is almost always too late.” When looking for photos for this post I found this photo from UNICEF’s Flickr – warning, it’s upsetting.
Again, what on earth?!
I had been so consumed with my own little bubble of news that I deemed important. And it is, in many ways. Perhaps it’s an unrealistic expectation to be up to date on world events. But famine and the very real possibility of millions of lives perishing isn’t and shouldn’t be trivial. Surely this should be a much bigger deal? Like, front page news big? (As it so happens, this story made the headlines over the weekend for a few hours.)
Perhaps my frustration is at those who control the media we consume most often. Consumption is probably the key word. We watch or read the news with an underlying, often unacknowledged need to be entertained. I guess this is where some of the issues social media’s echo chamber effect come in to play to; we need to learn to reach beyond those we like following.
I don’t know how to change what the media gives us. I do know that we have the means to be aware of issues like this, though. Yes, it requires a bit of effort on our part in going beyond our favourite news outlets, but since when was our faith about convenience and consumerism?