When the journalist David Barsamian asked Indian writer and political activist Arundhati Roy about her travels in the United States, she admitted that she was amazed how insular a nation America really was. “When you live outside it, and you come here, it’s almost shocking how insular it is. And how puzzled people are — and how curious, now I realize, about what other people think, because its just been blocked out.”
Thus, Roy may not be surprised that when the Tyndall Report broke down the nightly newscasts of the three main networks in the US (ABC, NBC, and CBS), the top Indian story was the appearance of two uninvited guests at the White House dinner for Manmohan Singh.
As the IPS noted this weekend, much can be learned about America’s news diet from the Tyndall Report’s review of 2009 which ranks the airtime given to various issues on the nation’s top three nightly half-hour news broadcasts.
So what were Americans watching? Health care reform and the H1N1 virus dominated the airwaves. Afghanistan received more coverage than Iraq for the first time since the invasion of Iraq (735 minutes to 169 minutes). The international focus was certainly on the Middle East as Israel and Palestine were given 132 minutes (102 of those during the siege of Gaza). Iran’s election and nuclear program was also a central international story with 194 minutes and Ethiopian piracy garnered a considerable amount of press with 112 minutes.
Important to consider when looking at these numbers is the dynamic of the American media after the 2008 election during which producers spent a great deal of time reporting on the campaigns. As the analyst behind this report, Andrew Tyndall, told the IPS, “…you had an entire news hole that was devoted to the 2008 election that became available for other stories, and only a minority of that news hole reverted to international news coverage.”
In fact, network reporting on international affairs has declined over the last twenty years and Latin America and Africa received conspicuously little coverage according to last year’s figures. Thus, another IPS story about the increasing numbers of Americans who are turning toward global broadcasters such as Russia Today, the BBC, and Al Jazeera should come as no surprise.
As insular as America may be, the paradox of an increasingly connected world and an increasingly narrow-minded news media is an obvious one.