Women in Iraq: CNN versus BBC

I’ve subscribed to a number of feeds from CNN and from the BBC, and I noticed almost right away they they both had written stories in response to an Oxfam report on Iraqi women. The difference in coverage intrigues me, though I can’t yet put my finger on why. Maybe as I get used to following these news sources, the differences will become clearer.

From CNN, we have Study: Iraqi widows struggle in new roles as breadwinners.

Story Highlights

  • An estimated 740,000 widows struggle in new roles as heads of house, survey says
  • Many women don’t have daily access to water and cannot send children to school
  • More than 40 percent of respondents said security situation worsened last year
  • Report urges Iraq to invest in essential social welfare services

From the BBC, we have The shame of Iraq’s pariah widows. They don’t give handy distillations of the stories, but this one focuses much more on the widows, and the specific hardships they face. The story is also advertised on the site as “Widows’ woe: Suicide vest or sex work? Fate of Iraq’s greiving women.” It highlights the fact that many widows are forced by their circumstances into sex work– night clubs (and “night clubs”) are growing in numbers, and about 40% of prostitutes in iraq are widows.

However, CNN doesn’t mention the increase in sex work at all, or the increased tendency towards suicide. It breathes not a word of either fate, instead repeating several times that women are struggling to gain access to electricity, water, and education for their children.

At first, that seemed like an odd omission to me. Why, if they had both read the same report, had the journalists come away with such different impressions? Well, I took a look at the full report, and it looks like the BBC must have been doing some independent research as well. The Oxfam report is broken fown into several sections, all of which focus on things like water, electricity, povert, and education. If sex work and suicide are mentioned, they are hiding in the body of the text, not given an independent section.

I think it’s most likely, then, that the BBC did do some indepentent reporting, but it’s muddling my opinion of these pieces as a set. I confess, dear reader, that I began this post intending to say mean and nasty things about CNN for ignoring women’s suffering! But now I’m not sure.

Why did the BBC go looking for the story it did? On the one hand, I want to be impressed by their go-getting reporting. Yes!, I want to say, ask women what their lives are like, what they need! Tell their stories! But on the other hand, something about the addition of the sex work angle seems off to me, titillating, maybe; I mean, it’s a serious story, and one worth telling, but it wasn’t part of the original report. Is it a failure of the original report, to ask all the relevant questions? Or reporters focusing on what they think is the “worst” part of the story?

I’m really not sure. Probably there isn’t any simple “this article is good, this article is bad” statement to be made. I expected it to be more straightforward (I only allotted myself 20 minutes to run off a rant!) but I guess life gets complicated like that.

What do you think?

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