Last week the world watched in shock as detail after detail emerged of the destruction of Flight MH17 mid-flight over eastern Ukraine, apparently because of a sophisticated so-called ‘Buk’ missile system fired by rebels in the area, according to Kiev and its allies. The extent to which it has engaged the public is obvious – nearly one week on and on any ‘most read’ list of articles on any news website this story or one related to it will more than likely dominate.

But why is it capturing the public’s attention more than any other tragedy happening in the world right now, many of which (if we’re going to measure things from a coldly objective scientific standpoint) have a higher death toll? Other than the sheer horror of it, it has something that the Israeli operation in Gaza, war in Syria, or either of the two other planes that crashed days after – proximity. We can look at destabilised countries on our televisions, safe in the knowledge that the chance of that happening to us is astronomically low. I now sit at my desk, look out my window and know that I won’t ever have to board them up because, unless climate change really will be as bad as Hollywood disaster films tell us, a hurricane hitting south England will not happen in my lifetime.

This leaves us with a problem in relating to people who have gone through this. Something that is not the case with Flight MH17 because as we watch the countless videos of it on the BBC website, we think to ourselves that any of us could quite easily be on a flight from Amsterdam, flying over Ukraine and might just be victim to a horrific disaster – as 10 British people were. This creates a sense of morbid fascination amongst us as we read of life-saving last-minute changes of plan or deadly twists of fate of people who just happened to be on the plane or not.

Aside from this morbid fascination, there is another reason why the media fell in love with this story, and that is because it ostensibly portrays a narrative that other disasters in the world do not. At least apparently, the plane was shot down by rebels supported by Russia (the Bad Guys), who are fighting a war against Kiev, supported by the West (the Good Guys) and there just happened to be some civilians caught in the middle of it all at the wrong time. This sense of right and wrong or, more precisely, victims and perpetrators is easy for us to comprehend.

For comparison, look to Gaza: the death toll there recently topped 1800, many of whom are children bombed in shelters and schools. However, it is not so easy to call Israel the ‘bad guy’ as they (attempt to) crush the Hamas fighters that fire rockets and raid south-west Israel. In spite of Israel’s apparent lack of concern for ‘collateral damage’ and the massively disproportionate number of deaths being Palestinian, it is not so easy to unanimously call them the antagonists of the scenario when they are under rocket attacks. After all, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers started this most recent bout of fighting.

More strikingly, in the Central African Republic, thousands of people have died in fighting with innumerable counts of rape and looting by human rights groups. However, as the belligerents are mostly gangs, it is difficult to say what exactly should happen or who is in the right. Especially as the state’s army has reportedly taken part in some atrocities, the media and those who consume it cannot easily say what should happen. In that respect it is not dissimilar to the war in Syria, where now it seems that the regime is the devil we know compared to the uncertainty of the rebels, especially now during ISIS’ fighting in Iraq.

Sometimes, the antagonist is not even human. In Chad, 20.9 percent of children die before they are 5, caused my various illnesses exacerbated by the drought and famine. When MH17 was shot down, it was easy for Western politicians to support sanctions on Russia to make supplying the rebels more expensive. Airlines rerouted the few planes that still flew over east Ukraine. Although the response was dramatic against Russia, it also wasn’t a difficult conclusion to come to. However, when we look at children starving or dying of illness on our TV screens, it reminds us that humans are not the only agents of change on the planet, and there are some things that are simply not caused by or cannot be fixed by us. Over 500,000 people died of AIDS in Southern Africa in 2011, but reading this doesn’t give anyone a sense of right or wrong, it just reminds us that the human race is not a master of its own destiny and the cause of our entropy might not be something we can fix, it might not even be human.

People might take issue with the bias from media against Russia, before even the party that fired the missile has been identified. However, that is simply attributing a narrative to a story that is easy to do so. An overriding narrative is important to the media because as humans we want everything to be easy to define and fit in with how we see the world. However, the problem with the media isn’t this bias – that is just a symptom for this seeking for a narrative. Instead the fault lies with the fact that both writers and readers of the news are lazy in their view of the world. The problem may well simply be ‘human nature’, but it is still important to recognise that, and appreciate that as a global society, we cannot be morally right or justifiable in all our actions and many tragedies will pass us by, treated with apathy.

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