Andrew Stroehlein

It’s a maxim that what people aren’t talking about is always a favorite topic of conversation. But it will make your head spin when applied to the media and the most deadly conflict in the world today. Western media generally do not cover the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but a media story is currently developing around the Congo - focusing, paradoxically, on how the conflict is not a media story.

I’ve lost count of how many journalists in the recent weeks have asked me, “Why aren’t the media covering the Congo?”

With an estimated 1,000 people dying there every day as a result of hunger and disease caused by war, it is an appropriate question. But the extent of this coverage of noncoverage is reaching the absurd: print, radio, TV, Internet — they all want to know why they themselves are not writing articles and broadcasting programmes about the Congo.

And it is not just me noticing this. In March, Reuters even held a seminar on “forgotten crises,” at which the Congo topped the list, and on BBC World Service the other day, I heard a newscaster ask: “Shouldn’t this be getting more attention?”

Indeed. What the world media are missing is one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II: 3.8 million people have died in the Congo since 1998, dwarfing not only the biggest of natural catastrophes, such as December’s tsunami, but also other manmade horrors, such as Darfur.

With so many dying and so much at stake, it is simply astounding that Congo isn’t in the newspapers and on nightly news regularly. Even a nonlethal car bombing in Iraq or a kidnapping in Afghanistan gets more Western media coverage in a day than Congo gets in a typical month of 30,000 dead.

News editors have long assumed “no one is interested in Africa,” supposing their audience sees only hopeless African problems eternally defying solution. But solutions do exist for Congo: The linchpin to resolving the conflict is the creation of a unified and effective national army and the disarmament of the remaining ragtag forces that are the source of so much suffering.

Both the Congolese Transitional Government and the Rwandan government are heavily dependent on outside aid, so if the international community would more closely condition its support on such concrete measures, it could bolster the transition process and decisively advance peace in the region. Sadly, such stories of potential solutions are no more reported in the Western media than stories of the country’s current despair.

Darfur has managed to capture strong interest throughout the Western world. Though the tsunami hit only a small part of Africa, the tsunami story has turned traditional news wisdom on its head in a similar way: surprising as it may seem to some news executives, people actually do care. Readers and viewers actually will be captivated by — and will even engage with — distant humanitarian disasters when they know about them. —The Christian Science Monitor