Tim Marshall looks at the events around the world overshadowed by the conflict in the Middle East
There are only so many words on a page and minutes in an hour. Because of this, and other reasons, some events garner huge media coverage, while others are deemed worthy of much less. Over the past few weeks, one international story has dominated, almost to the exclusion of all others.
Access and connectivity are also factors. Many major news organisations maintain well-staffed bureaus in Jerusalem, a city that’s an attractive posting for ambitious media employees. News events take place within a short drive of the offices, which are connected to the world via the latest communications equipment.
But there’s another reason: us. Audiences and news organisations get ‘story fatigue’. Editors see audience and readership figures dropping and are tempted to move on to something else – something that meets the definition of the first three letters of ‘news’.
These are tough calls. What’s new isn’t necessarily what’s more important than what came before. But it’s a big world and there’s a lot going on. However, often what’s missed during the saturation coverage of one situation is significant and will have important ramifications down the line.
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The following are some examples of this drawn from the past few weeks. By definition, a sample excludes stories not included and therefore subjective choices were made. News is many things, but it’s not a science.
PAKISTAN announced that it’s deporting all migrants who are in the country illegally, including some 1.7 million Afghans. About 140,000 Afghans left ‘voluntarily’ before the 31 October deadline, after which Pakistani police began rounding people up and bulldozing their homes. The UN expressed concern at the forced return of people to Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
The war in UKRAINE ground on. Five months since their counter-offensive began, Ukrainian troops have advanced about 18 kilometres and stalemate has set in. The EU countries have managed to fill their natural gas reserves to 99 per cent capacity as a hedge against supplies being disrupted and so should be able to keep the home fires burning. Ukrainians may not be so lucky as Russia can be expected to again target gas, electricity and water supplies.
It will probably use some of the 350,000 or so artillery shells it’s thought North Korea delivered to Moscow last month. Something must have been in the 1,000 containers spotted by satellite cameras. Three hundred and fifty thousand may sound like a lot, but the Russians are firing about 10,000 shells a day.
It’s doubtful they paid cash for the munitions. The rouble has been in freefall and on 27 October, the Russian Central Bank raised interest rates to 15 per cent. To try to shore up its currency, Moscow announced that if a Western company wants to leave Russia, it must sell its assets for a rouble price.
The North Koreans aren’t exactly flush either. During the last few weeks, the country has announced the closure of at least 12 of its 53 embassies and diplomatic missions, including those in Spain, Uganda and Angola. The problem isn’t diplomatic – it’s dollars.
Zimbabwe has a nice little earner in the sale of its lithium. Last month, its earnings from lithium exports for the year so far came to US$209 million. Most of that came from China, which announced US$2.79 billion in investments in Zimbabwe’s mining and energy sectors. That will come in handy for a government under Western sanctions, even if it doesn’t trickle down to the population.
These days, China has a 360° view of the world. Last month, three armed groups in Myanmar launched a series of attacks against the military junta in Shan and Kachin states, which border China. They overran several military outposts, seized four towns and took control of a major road that links Myanmar to China. Fighting continued this month. Beijing has stepped in, urging all sides to agree to a ceasefire. Part of the rail and energy pipelines that link southwest China with Myanmar’s deep-water port in Kyaukphyu (in the Bay of Bengal) run through Shan state. Beijing needs to keep them open.
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And finally… two Chinese vessels rammed a Philippine Coast Guard ship as it attempted a resupply mission near the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. Both countries claim the Spratlys but the Philippines has grounded a ship there so it can host a handful of troops. It’s the sort of incident that, if things go wrong, could spark a war.
All, some or none of the above may be of interest, but it’s worth keeping in mind that when one story dominates, other events are unfolding that will also shape the future.