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MSF issues "Top 10" list of 2002's most under-reported humanitarian stories

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New York – The international medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today issued its list of the 'Top 10 Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2002'. The fifth annual list calls attention to human crises that the organization considers to have been largely ignored by the media in the United States in the past year. "These stories must be told," said Nicolas de Torrente, executive director of MSF-USA. "In MSF's experience, silence is the best ally of violence, impunity, and neglect.

Media attention to dire crises can have a tremendous impact on mobilizing the resolve needed to bring solutions. But for most Americans, it is as though these vast human catastrophes do not exist." Conflicts in two countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia, appear on MSF's "Top 10" list for the fourth straight year. The conditions facing people struggling to survive amid those brutal conflicts continue to receive little or no notice in the U.S. media even though fighting has escalated in both nations. Also receiving scant coverage has been a growing disregard for international humanitarian law that has resulted in a general erosion of protections for people fleeing war. The crisis of access to medicines for diseases that kill millions of the world's poorest people appears on the list for the fourth year as well.

While coverage of the worldwide scourge of AIDS has been noticeable, little media attention has been paid to "neglected diseases" like sleeping sickness, kala azar, malaria, and tuberculosis, which continue their deadly charge even though effective treatments exist. According to the Tyndall Report, which monitors television network news, the major networks' nightly news programs devoted more airtime from January to November 2002 to the tribulations and jubilees of the British royal family (26 minutes) than to eight of the crises highlighted on MSF's "Top 10" list combined (25 minutes).

The catastrophic man-made famine that claimed thousands of lives in oil-rich Angola, for example, received only one minute of coverage, whereas war in Liberia received none at all. The forcible return of Chechen refugees to their devastated and still dangerous home, and the intensification of wars in Colombia and Sudan, were virtually shut out. Lexis/Nexis searches of print, radio, and other media reveal a similar dearth of coverage.

"People throughout the United States have told us how hungry they are for substantive, in-depth coverage of international issues," de Torrente said. "Unfortunately, apart from a handful of dedicated journalists, the U.S. media's increasingly narrow focus leaves many Americans woefully under-informed. This is happening at a time when understanding and addressing global issues is perhaps more important than ever." MSF delivers medical aid to victims of war, natural and man-made disasters, epidemics, and social and geographic isolation in more than 80 countries.

In 2002, more than 3,000 MSF volunteers brought aid not only to the world's crisis zones, but also to many places that fall outside the glare of the media's spotlight.