Underreported Issues by the American Media

With fewer reporters abroad, those who go overseas tend to cover issues that appeal to the masses, according to John Maxwell Hamilton, a former foreign correspondent, scholar of foreign reporting, provost and Louisiana State University professor. So, the issues the American media chooses to cover will be largely motivated by what is most important to the largest number of people and will have an immediate impact.

“The media should be looking forward and covering issues that will have future impact,” said Hamilton, who believes coverage of issues in the Middle East came too late and that the media should now be covering issues regarding water, the next important global topic.

Of course another consequence of ignoring issues is that potentially, they can cause more damage than they would have, had they been covered early on.

Here are some major global issues that have been underreported:

Africa: LGBT rights

Senegal’s criminalization of homosexuality encouraging violence

The recent increase in state-aggravated cruelty toward gay men in Senegal has gained international attention since the 2010 release of a Human Rights Watch report, which reveals the nation’s numerous human rights violations.

Senegal’s problem, according to the report, escalated in 2008 after two highly publicized episodes of police arresting groups of men for homosexual conduct.

The first group was arrested after photos surfaced of them at a supposed gay marriage ceremony. The second group, all members of an organization that provides HIV prevention services, was arrested after attending an international HIV/AIDS conference, which Senegal hosted.

The charges were groundless, so the men were not detained. But, thanks to the media reports, the damage was done, and the men were subjected to violence and discrimination that, the report states, drove them into exile, and they now struggle to survive.

The problem was further exacerbated in 2009, when a mob dug up Madieye Diallo’s body, dragged it away and left it in front of his parents’ house.

These episodes were provoked by article 319.3 of the Senegalese penal code, which stipulates punishment for someone who commits “an impure or unnatural act with another person of the same sex” with up to five years in prison and a $3,000 fine. This is standard in African nations, where homosexuals are not just legally unprotected, but criminalized, tortured and killed.

The Senegalese regime condones this conduct, as was substantiated in 2009 when Prime Minister Souleymane Ndéné Ndiaye called homosexuality “a sign of a crisis of values,” resulting from the world’s economic problems.

Religious leaders also support the oppression of homosexuals.

George Price, a professor of African American studies at the University of Montana, says Africa’s problem with homosexuality is rooted in the region’s widespread practice of “Old Testament Christianity.” More than 90 percent of Senegalese people practice Islam, a religion overseen by God-ordained leaders whose judgments are widely observed. As long as the clergy condemns homosexuality, so will Senegalese society.

While these episodes expose some African nations’ struggle to recognize civil rights, Dr. Lindsey Doe, a clinical sexologist, says such issues do not come with instructions for solutions and need to be more widely addressed.

“We’re closeted, too, by not talking about it,” she said.

Asia: drug trafficking

Tajikistan’s economy surviving off youth drug trafficking

Government corruption, economic collapse, environmental misfortunes, inadequate border control and hopeless, alienated young people are all factors contributing to the Tajik drug trafficking industry, which accounts for more than 30 percent of the nation’s economy and employs a large number of its youth, according to a Mehrdad Kia.

The nation’s circumstances created a desperate generation that’s unafraid of consequences. They traffic drugs because it’s the only way to make a sufficient income. They take drugs to escape the reality of what they’ve been reduced to. Kia says drugs are a means of survival in Tajikistan.

Tessa Zolnikov, a UM political science major, saw evidence of the drug trade when she lived in Tajikistan.

“About 95 percent of all cars were Russian, older and falling apart, but about 5 percent were brand new E-Class Mercedes, Audi A6s or Range Rovers. No one in Tajikistan could afford these cars except those in the drug trade.”

The industry thrives in Tajikistan, not only because of its poverty, but also because of its insufficient border control.

The borders used to be controlled by Russia, but Tajiks desired to affirm their pride and self-sufficiency. So in 2005, at Tajikistan’s request, Russia ceded border control to U.S. trained Tajik guards.

Unfortunately, the Tajikistan government only pays the guards about $30 a month. So, when a $5 million shipment of drugs reaches the border and a guard is offered $100 in exchange for entrance, the impoverished guard is more than willing to oblige.

“They’re doing good things in a context that’s not changing anything,” Kia said.

About 93 percent of Tajikistan is covered with mountains and the country’s industrial infrastructure collapsed with the Soviet Union. Kia says countries such as Tajikistan were created to be dependent on Russia and cannot function on their own.

In a nation unable to generate many jobs, and those generated being unprofitable, Tajiks choose between earning a daily income of $3 by harvesting potatoes or $300 by selling drugs, Kia says. “They’ll starve in their own country with ethics.” So, many choose to sell drugs.

Some Tajiks move to Russia, where they are able to make enough money to support themselves and send some home to help support their families. But there, they are also discriminated against and oppressed.

Australia: health care for indigenous people

Australian government addressing indigenous health issues

The Australian government is working to make amends with the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders after years of mistreatments, which subjected the indigenous population to various significant health and social problems.

The reconciliation process began in 2008 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologized to the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Bill Borrie, native Australian and UM College of Forestry and Conservation professor, says that was a huge symbolic step for the nation.

The government took a substantial step with the implementation of programs aimed at improving the health of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. The primary goal of these programs is to close the 17-year gap that marks the difference in average life expectancies between the indigenous population and all other Australians.

There is also an abundance of programs directed toward assisting children. In the 1970s, the government approached assimilation by removing indigenous children from their homes to be Westernized. Many children never returned. This group of children is called the Stolen Generations, and the nation is particularly guilt-ridden over this phase, which is why they’ve adopted the mantra, “an equal start in life for indigenous children.”

“There’s a social justice about children being left behind,” Borrie said. “They don’t deserve it,”

The government also implemented various programs to lend additional support to children dealing with social issues, such as issues brought on by the introduction of drugs and alcohol. Use of glue and gasoline as inhalants, or petrol sniffing, is one such prevalent issue amongst indigenous youth, and a program was implemented to address it.

Borrie says the indigenous youth resorted to abusing inhalants because it is a way for them to escape and shut the world down. Also, gasoline and glue are readily available and “free,” since glue is easy to steal and gas can be easily siphoned out of cars.

Addressing these health and social issues is just a portion of the Australian government’s attempt to address the greater problem of the alienation, experienced by the indigenous population. Piece by piece, they’re working towards reconciliation.

Europe: energy

France preparing for energy shortage by producing nuclear power

Current events are creating a contentious dichotomy pertaining to the longstanding French energy policy that focuses heavily on development and production of nuclear power.

When civil unrest spread through Libya in February 2011, the European Union, which imports over half its energy supplies, much of it from Libya, was already concerned about an imminent energy deficiency, indicated by their adoption of the Energy Efficiency Plan 2011. So, the EU’s formal condemnation of the Libyan conflict, in the form of sanctions, heightened the union’s fear of energy deficiency.

This situation seemingly justified French efforts, since the 1973 oil crisis, to secure national energy independence, a policy through which the nation has produced 58 nuclear reactors in 19 power plants, according to the World Nuclear Association.

But that validation was short-lived, as not even a month later, Japan was devastated by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, shutting down cooling functions of three reactors, which subsequently overheated, exploded, and released radioactive vapor for days, and will take years to clean up.

While debate in some nations revolved around whether they cease nuclear production, France announced its intentions of further nuclear development. France’s generation III reactor is currently under production.

But the French nuclear program is hardly infallible. The World Nuclear Association has records of several environmentally hazardous accidents, some of which resulted in the contamination of watersheds with such radioactive materials as uranium.

According to Bradley Layton, the UM College of Technology’s director of Energy Technology, the potential for such contamination deems nuclear power production an unsatisfactory response to energy crisis. But some sort of reaction is necessary because, as Layton proves in his study on prevalent energy sources, in a generation or two, the world will reach its photosynthetic ceiling, a concept regarding limited access to energy.

According to Layton, since all of the technological and metabolic energy that humans consume (with the exception of nuclear, tidal and geothermal) is ultimately derived from the sun, continued consumption of fossil fuels at our current rate of 500 billion joules per year will force us to either deploy photovoltaic arrays into space, find new sources of energy or continue to try to find oil dictators to overthrow. A joule is a derived unit of energy or work.

We’re rapidly approaching the ceiling, and we’ll reach it even quicker once we’ve exhausted our primary energy source, oil, the production of which has already peaked in North America and Asia.

The most practical response would be to educate ourselves and put on the brakes when it comes to consumption, or as Layton said, “un-supersize yourself.”

South America: government repression

Guatemala’s government disregarding protests of Marlin Mine

A bus carrying indigenous Guatemalans from their protest at Marlin Mine on Feb. 28, 2011, was stopped by mine workers and community members who forced the protesters off the bus and proceeded to beat and rob them.

This incident reveals the increasing intensity of state repression towards the emerging indigenous oppositional organization in Guatemala.

The government’s responsibility to support the indigenous population in government matters that affect them was established in Guatemala’s 1996 peace accords, which came as a result of the Guatemalan Civil War.

“They’ve failed to uphold that mandate,” said Murphy Woodhouse, a UM Latin American studies major who lives in Mexico.

Production at Marlin Mine began in 2005 after the Guatemalan government granted the necessary permits without consulting the residents surrounding the site.

Those residents have opposed the project since day one. They have held “consultas populares,” similar to town hall meetings, protests, and they have obtained a cease-operation request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights but have yet been granted their legally mandated consideration.

“They’re trying to strip them of their power,” Woodhouse said.

The residents are protesting on grounds of environmental and human rights violations. They’re experiencing various health problems from exposure to toxins, according to a study done by Physicians for Human Rights, and the land is being devastated by contamination, pollution and erosion.

Additionally, the residents have not been compensated for the derived minerals.

This ongoing issue is indicative of the government’s efforts to strengthen the use of the military as a domestic controlling agency. Such use was abolished in the 1996 peace accords, but restored with a subsequent referendum. Remilitarization has been increasing since then and recently culminated with President Alvaro Colom’s declaration of a “state of siege” in Alta Verapaz, a department in north central Guatemala.

This declaration was made as an anti-narcotics measure to deal with the department’s issues with heavy drug trafficking, but many believe it was implemented to halt social movements.

Under a “state of siege” the government obtains the rights to search and arrest without warrant and suspend civil liberties such as the rights to free speech and assembly.

Since such issues are and will likely continue to be underreported by the American media, non-governmental organizations’ websites are the best sources of information for those interested in additional information. An extensive library of NGOs, organized by region and subject, can be found here.