Journalists say that when a dog bites a man, there’s nothing special about it. When a man bites a dog, on the other hand, it’s a news report. In other words: only exceptional events make it to the headlines. And there’s a problem with that.
News is like food. We consume it on a daily basis. But just as with the food we’re eating, we don’t always know what’s behind it. Obviously, the news must deal with something new, which could be a political development or a case of extreme violence.
Let’s take a look at the violence. On a global level, assaults or robberies – unfortunately – aren’t that unusual. So in order to make it to the headlines, a news story must also disrupt. Imagine a murder case in a peaceful countryside village. Not really the location you’d expect.
Distance also matters. If an event takes place in a country far away, you will probably hear about it only if the the story has some conflict in it. Let’s say a famous politician lives in our fictitious village and it turns out the prime suspect is her son, a respected young lawyer.
Of course, all news is about people. So we’re eager to find out how a young man, with a potentially bright future, ends up in a murder case. Moreover, we can identify with the victim’s family because they’re people like us. “What happened is just a shame.”
In the end, we want the news to be reassuring. “You see, even a successful politician has some issues going on.” It makes own problems seem trivial. And there you have it: all of a sudden a murder case becomes headline news all over the planet.
The importance of facts
There’s something strange about this. Indeed, we do have a good story. But it doesn’t tell us a lot about the world and the people around us, does it? Are we going to distrust all lawyers and politicians now? Do we need to be scared when visiting a small village? Of course not.
Let’s take it back to the real life. What about terrorism? This certainly is a hot topic in the news. But just how dangerous is it? How many victims does it make? And who’s responsible for it? We’ve looked up some facts, which is surprisingly easy.
Take, for instance, the Global Terrorism Index, published by the London based Institute of Economics and Peace. What the executive summary says might come as a shock. But do remember the following facts. They might come in handy for you next discussion about terrorism.
In 2014 the total number of fatalities related to terrorism worldwide was 32,658. An increase by 80 percent when compared to the previous year. To put things into perspective: in 2000 only 3,329 people lost their lives due to terrorism.
Most violence is concentrated in only five countries. Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria together account for 78 percent of all terrorism related deaths. However, terrorism is spreading.
In 2014, the list of countries which had more than 500 fatalities as a consequence of terrorism extended from 5 to 11. On the list you will now also find Cameroon, Central African Republic, Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine.
The number of countries with a least one deadly victim went up from 59 in 2013 to 67 in 2014. This concerns Western countries too, like Austria, Belgium and France. However, on a global scale only 0.5 percent of all casualties have occurred in the West since 2000, excluding September 11.
In Western countries, so called lone wolf attacks, account for 70 percent of all deaths since 2006. In 4 out 5 cases, it had to do with right wing extremists, nationalists, anti-governmental elements or supremacism. Islamic fundamentalism is not the main driver.