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UN Passes Historic Arms Trade Treaty To Media Silence
an article by Alexander Zaitchik, Media Matters Blog

U.S. Press Largely Ignores Negotiation, Passage Of Historic Treaty

On the day the Arms Trade Treaty was scheduled to face a consensus vote by 193 countries, ending the years-long process to establish an international agreement to curtail arms trafficking to nations torn by conflict, I listened to a member of the Liberian delegation explain his country's concerns. "We wanted a much tighter treaty," he said, referring the large group of African countries most affected by the global black market arms trade. "Those of us who live in countries devastated by civil war very clearly understand the need for a strong regulatory framework to deter non-state actors from getting weapons. This is why we wanted a mechanism for risk-assessment, and why we wanted penalties."

This graphic, from the mediamatters website, illustrates the opposition to the United Nations by the National Rifle Association

click on photo to enlarge

Without the view from Liberia, it's hard to understand yesterday's headlines about the General Assembly's approval of the treaty. Which is why during two weeks of negotiations last month, African delegations could often be seen chatting with media from around the world. On the last day of the conference especially, the North Lawn building buzzed with reporters seeking perspectives. There were Russian and Arab TV crews, Japanese magazine journalists, and writers from at least half a dozen African publications. The U.S. media presence, hailing from the world's largest arms exporter, was harder to find. Which is to say, it was nearly impossible to find.

In two weeks of commingling with ATT delegates and observers, the only American reporters I met were Ginny Simone, the face of NRA News, and Richard Johnson, a freelancer who has covered the U.N. since Brezhnev, most recently for an obscure website called South-South News. "In terms of media, it's gotten pretty sleepy around here," said Johnson, before recounting the glory days of the 1970s. "Now it's more about Twitter than press conferences. The institutional media only flocks when North Korea does something, or there's drama in the Security Council."

This lack of media presence was reflected in the pages of the nation's largest newspapers, which largely ignored the treaty negotiations. The Washington Post was a no-show. So was The Wall Street Journal. The Los Angeles Times reported from the West Coast on a State Department press release and published a story on the treaty's passage credited to "Times Staff and Wire Reports."

Lapping the field, The New York Times published three full-length reports with a U.N. dateline, two news briefs, and a table-setting piece at the start of the treaty conference. The paper benefits from investing in a full-time UN beat reporter, Neil MacFarquhar, as well as a New York-based foreign desk writer who covers the body, Rick Gladstone; the LA Times, by contrast, dispatches a New York-based reporter when they deem it necessary.

None of the major broadcast networks appear to have found the treaty worthy of even a passing mention on their airwaves. Nor did CNN, the cable network historically most interested in world news. The only major cable news channel to show up was Fox News, which relied so heavily on NRA talking points for its anti-treaty coverage that the dishes on its sat-truck outside the UN gate reminded one of turrets on an enemy tank.

(This article is continued in the discussionboard)


Question(s) related to this article:

Do the mass media give any attention to the culture of peace?, or just to the culture of war?

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Latest reader comment:

The articles from Africa describe good examples, among the rare ones, of media attention to the culture of peace.  Not by accident that it is in Africa.  In fact, the countries of the North have traditionally tried to keep the countries of the South from having their own media.  For some history, see the history of UNESCO's attempt to aid the media of the South.

This report was posted on April 26, 2013.