I’m a news junkie. I’m totally obsessed with reading as much news as I can get my hands on. Day or night, from newspapers, blogs, and Twitter, I will always find the time to squeeze in one more quick story.
But there are, every so often, times when even I turn away exasperated. There are times when I can’t face any more. I had that rare feeling once again this last week, when faced with the avalanche of stories about British tourists stranded in the luxury Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
As I’m sure you all know, most, if not all, flights between the UK and Sharm were suspended after a Russian aeroplane crashed in the Sinai peninsula, killing everyone on board. There have been suspicions the tragedy might have caused by a bomb.
This is, by any standard, a big story. You would expect it to be leading the bulletins on the BBC and front page of every paper, tabloid and broadsheet. Even the Star managed to tear itself away from its normal diet of Madeleine McCann rumour-mongering and Celebrity Big Brother, to lead with this story.
But their headline sums up my frustrations: “HOL BRITS STRANDED OVER JET BOMB FEARS”. The focus of the story was not the 224 people who died in the crash. Nor was it discussion of the possibility of terrorism, or the implications for Egypt, Russia or even Syria.
No, the Star looked at this hugely complex and global story, and decided to zoom in on the fact that a few thousand British holidaymakers will have to stay a couple of extra days in their luxury Red Sea resort. And the Star is not alone. Most of the British media got sucked into days of febrile coverage of British tourists stranded in Sharm. Live blogs sprang up, covering the scheduling and then cancellation of flights from Britain to Egypt. Videos of angry sun-worshippers berating the British ambassador in Sharm’s airport went viral.
And yet, all along, the real story is out there. The gripping tale of a bewildered investigation into the disaster, which is trying to piece together the truth from fragments in the desert. There were leaks from Western intelligence agencies and foreign powers at loggerheads. And, most significantly, the families and friends grieving the sudden loss of 224 loved-ones. All this interesting and absorbing news is out there, and yet our newspapers and broadcasters couldn’t stop themselves from gorging on an hourly diet of furious British tourists and will-they-won’t-they sagas about budget airlines sending over ‘rescue missions’.
And it’s not just Sharm and this plane crash story. The same old myopia kicks in year after year. I will never forget back in late 2010 hearing days of breakneck Radio 5 Live coverage of increasingly complicated attempts to repatriate British tourists from Tunisia. Of course, the real story, going on in the background of this repetitive and tedious saga was a genuine, popular and successful revolution. Of young Tunisians peacefully casting off decades of decrepit authoritarianism. Of the beginning of the Arab Spring. But we would rather hear yet another interview with the CEO of Thomas Cook, explaining when a handful of discomfited Brits would be rushed back to safety in Britain.
On one level, I want to shout at everyone to get over themselves. You, angry woman in Sharm airport – you do realise this is not about you? It’s not about how your holiday in a luxury Red Sea resort will be slightly extended. It’s about the deaths of 224 people and a possible act of retaliatory international terrorism. And you, newspaper editor or radio host – why can’t you see that you’re missing the real story?
But I know this is just part of the human condition. We look at things happening elsewhere in the world and we insist on making sense of them by making them relatable. We find the people in the story who are most like us, who speak our language, and we make the news all about them. I’m guilty of this. We all are, to a degree.
Yet, I still think this blinkered perspective has to change. We shouldn’t always insist on making the news about us. The news is supposed to lift our eyes away from our own inconsequential lives and make us focus on what is truly important. We should let ourselves be moved, challenged, inspired and saddened by what is happening to those who are unlike us. The Syrian child gassed to death or the refugee struggling to make it ashore onto a Greek island.
As Christians, don’t we have a duty to lay down our obsession with ourselves and those around us, and instead look out for the Other, what the Old Testament summed as the “orphan, widow and stranger”?
Who is the Other in this plane crash story? I don’t know exactly, but whoever it is, I’m pretty sure it isn’t sunburnt tourists, impatiently waiting for a flight back home in Sharm airport.