If I gathered anything from a talk I attended at the House of Commons organised by Muslim Aid to discuss the ‘silent Tsunami’, it was that uniting the wills of newspaper editors, NGOs and journalists is no small feat.

George Alagiah

George Alagiah

The topic was the under-reporting of global disasters, with the recent tsunami at the centre of the debate chaired by George Alagiah. This subject seems to divide people because each side holds different ideas of what it is to successfully cover the wake of humanitarian disasters while retaining a sense of newsworthiness.

The want of a newspaper editor, first and foremost, is to sell papers. To sell papers you need stories that readers will want to read and will care about. The trouble is that many people don’t care about widespread famine in developing countries, and it certainly isn’t going to make front page news on most papers.

The want of the journalist, first and foremost, is to write a story that has not been told and that they have a will to be heard.

That of the NGO, inevitably and understandably, is different again. And whether by celebrity endorsement or cerebral consideration, they want to create awareness of a growing widespread problem.

John Mitchell, the director of Active Learning Network, accused the media of simplifying the complex message of the famine following the tsunami, describing his frustration over the media’s presentation, saying it has been “grossly unreported”. But George Alagiah defended the journalist by saying “it is unfair to ask from the journalist something that they editor will not allow.”

It seems to me that you cannot force upon someone a story that they have no desire to read, and I do feel the editor has a strong grasp of what these are. I personally have an interest in reading about global humanitarian issues, but I know where to look to read them. It cannot simply be a process of a journalist insisting to the editor of whatever publication they are working for that their story must be written, if it negates the reader’s wish to read it.