What racist media coverage of Ukraine says about the way ‘the West’ engages in global conflicts

The news agenda plays a major role in ways in which conflict and peace processes are perceived in the world. Our Peace Process Support Coordinator, Alex Shoebridge reflects on media coverage of Ukraine and the consequences for other global conflicts. 

The double standards and underlying racism of some of the coverage from Western media outlets on the war in Ukraine has not gone unnoticed by critics and media on the African continent, in China and the MENA region, as well as by Inclusive Peace partners in those same regions. Countries outside Europe hosting large refugee populations or experiencing internal violent conflicts have seldom received the same sort of sympathetic and compassionate coverage and response. The international solidarity afforded to Ukraine is not afforded to conflicts in places like Ethiopia, South Sudan or in the Sahel region. 

The fact that a war in Europe and images of blond-haired, blue-eyed, and Christian refugees  fleeing to Western Europe, receives maximum attention from Western media outlets is not surprising in itself, but it also has consequences for how EU countries support and perceive other conflicts in the world and forced displacements that follow. The implicit racist elements in the response shapes the public opinion which again directs donors’ and policy makers’ attention and priorities. International aid is now being redirected away from African, MENA or Asian contexts to respond to Ukrainian refugees and welcoming policies are being uniquely tailored for Ukrainian refugees – in sharp contrast to the reception that those fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia or other conflict contexts receive. 

While it could be easy to dismiss this coverage as isolated instances divorced from wider political realities and inequalities, it is perceived as just the latest example of global inequalities and underlying racism which governs the relationship between the West and the rest of the world. There are also perceptions of a certain hypocrisy about the West’s insistence on Ukrainian sovereignty after years of violence following stated regime change objectives across the Middle East, where sovereignty was seemingly less valued. This has implications for how the West is perceived and received in terms of engaging in and supporting peace and political transition processes. In countries like Ethiopia, the public opinion now turns its back on Europe and Ukraine and leans towards China and Russia.

Much has been made of the economic impact of the war in Ukraine, but less attention has been paid to the political ramifications facing the West in how they engage in peace and political transition processes in other parts of the world. Explicitly racist coverage and policy responses will only serve to further undermine credibility and entry points to support national actors – whether it be governments, opposition groups or civil society. This holds risks of violent conflict enduring for longer, to the detriment of the civilian populations in these contexts, and further undermining the ability of the West to support conflict resolution, mediation, and peacebuilding efforts in such contexts.