The Westernization of Media

Photo: illustration by alexander laurent rubalcava for The Yale Globalist


By Hailey Seo


Attacks in January 2014 on newspaper offices in France and a village in Nigeria received a significant difference in Western attention, with the former commanding international headlines, and the latter barely making the news. In The Medium, author D. Andre attempts to debunk the narrative that the West “ignores or downplays news” from the latter country by highlighting the extensive coverage of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Andre questions the harmful influence of Western media in comparison to the negative impact of Nigeria’s domestic news outlets, which are severely limited by political corruption and lack of security.

Regardless, the effect of Western media and its necessity to international perspectives should not be underestimated. In South Africa, media reports have shown an overreliance on Western newswires; University of Johannesburg professor Mandla J. Radebe found that 80% of a sample of news articles from the region concerning the Ukrainian war were sourced from Western organizations such as Bloomberg and Reuters. Thus, inequities in reporting is a significant issue, with Western dominance, some argue, threatening press freedom throughout the globe. Although the dramatization of Western media has arguably become less blatant since the war propaganda of the 1940’s, the inherent biases are still implicitly conveyed today through the silencing and vilification of non-Western nations. 


Contrast between Middle Eastern and Ukrainian Portrayal

In March 2022, CNN reported that the conflict in Ukraine drove Western journalists to the Middle East in order “to cover the biggest European war in decades.” Unfortunately, some reporters’ media biases were exposed during the process. For example, CBS News foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata came under fire for referring to Ukraine as a “relatively civilized, relatively European…city,” implying that the Middle East is wartorn and chaotic. Sympathy in big news outlets also flowed out for Ukrainian victims, further highlighting the inherent Western preferential treatment of typically “white” and “middle-class” citizens. President of the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association Hoda Osman condemned the contrast between the depictions as a dehumanization of Middle Eastern victims. Professors Erik Bleich and Maurits van der Veen found that over the course of 20 years, anti-Muslim sentiment had also been brooding in the United States’ media, reporting that “the average article mentioning Muslims or Islam…is more negative than 84% of articles” in the Daily Sabah. The authors drew a direct contrast between this stigma leading to “irregular and hostile policies toward Syrian refugees in the 2010s” and the “warm welcome Americans and Europeans gave the Ukrainians in 2022.” Furthermore, according to South China Morning Post, Western media has been noticeably hesitant to call out the Ukrainian government’s actions and the effects of NATO’s expansionist approach, revealing their “superiority complex and biased reporting.”


Undercoverage of Myanmar

Myanmar provides an important example of the lack of sustainability and long-term investment of Western journalism into countries with less “geopolitical significance of events,” as reported in the publication Spheres of Influence. The 2016 Rohingya crisis and the 2021 military coup received brief attention, but coverage is considered minimal when compared to the daily terror and oppression Myanmar citizens still face. The same article argues that Western multinational corporations go so far as to exploit Myanmar’s instability for “cheap labour, low-cost land, and abundant natural resources.”

Beyond the lack of coverage, independent Burmese news outlets condemn Western media for glazing over their political and social complexities. For example, The Irrawaddy, one of the foremost independent journalistic publications on Burmese politics, criticized an article from The Economist, which claimed that “‘Burmese media are painting an overly optimistic picture of the war.’” Further, referring to the collective of news sources as “those outlets” simplified them to the same level as “junta-controlled state media that systematically spread disinformation, blatant lies, and simple and dumb propaganda.” 


Vilification of China

Prevalence of anti-China rhetoric in Western media cannot be understated, with The Diplomat commenting that the only “positive story” is “about the Lunar New Year.” Prominent Asia-Pacific writer Chandran Nair, who composed the article, synthesizes the negative stories painted by the West into three core ideas: first, China being a global threat; second, China’s connection to every global event involving the West; and third, the need to stop the rise of the nation. According to Nair, rather than promoting multilateralism, Western media pushes the belief that “conflict is inevitable,” helping to “demonize China while justifying the hegemonic position of the West.” The Global Times goes as far as to condemn Western news outlets such as the BBC as “a propaganda tool of the West,” accusing the broadcaster of spreading misinformation concerning the Xinjiang issue. Particularly in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, international relations columnist Curtis Stone points out Western media’s downplaying of China’s effective approach and “tremendous progress tackling the virus.” 

The criticisms presented in this article should be taken with a grain of salt; the referenced sources condemn Western media for the silencing and vilification of their own representative countries and citizens, and therefore have an inherent bias of their own. However, the first step to engaging in a worldview that is not dominated by Western influence and beliefs is not necessarily agreeing with, but at the very least recognizing non-Western perspectives. 

Hailey Seo is a first-year in Jonathan Edwards College and can be reached at