When I first started out in journlism in Australia, a senior editor told me: remember the golden rule of news - 1 white life equals 10 brown lives equals 100 black lives. He wasn’t a racist, he was just stating things the way they were. Horrified as I was to hear that equation all those years ago, there’s nothing that I’ve ever read or seen in the media in the 25 years since that disputes that original equation.
The ongoing war in the Congo drags on with 4 million dead over the last decades and hardly makes an appearance in the papers, but a shooting in the US or UK killing dozens hogs the airwaves and print for days afterwards.
And take the current crisis in Pakistan surrounding the mysterious case of Raymond Davis.
Davis, an American working at the US Embassy shoots two young men; an Embassy car coming to his rescue runs over a third. Davis is arrested and it turns out that he was carrying unlicensed weapons and the car had false numberplates. In any country in the world, the killings plus the possession of unregistered weapons would amount to some pretty serious charges, and would be a case for immediate arrest. Pakistani authorities did that very thing but the US is insisting that Davis be allowed diplomatic immunity and returned to US authorities. And what’s more, unless he’s immediately freed, US aid to Pakistan could be stopped.
So if a - ok, let’s not use that unpleasant term, brown person - but let’s say a government employee from a country in the developing world, would shoot and kill two people in Washington, London or New York, even if that person was working in an Embassy, would they, or should they be immediately released?
The case is a cause celebre in Pakistan where anti American sentiments are running high, and in the US too which has always had an uneasy relationship with its push-me pull-you ally Pakistan. It becomes more ghastly when you factor in the recent suicide of the young widow of one of the two men killed by Davis. Her last words voiced her despair at the idea that Davis would be freed and that her husband’s murder would never be punished.
Perhaps she was egged on by the media, or factions in Pakistani society that wants to fan this fire into a conflagration. As usual, its the little people who will suffer. Perhaps more will die before this affair pans out. There will be protests in Pakistan, God help us, perhaps even potentially violent ones. No doubt eventually the US will strong arm Pakistan in some way and will force the case and Davis to quietly disappear somehow.
But it’s interesting to see that when people literally get away with murder, either they’re white in brown country, or have enough power and money to buy the kind of treatment they’d get if they were white.
So it seems that awful equation at the top of this post, is still the measure of a person’s worth. At least in the eyes of the people who make the decisions.