Shocking abuses and killings in Colombia are so under-reported that many Italians aren’t even aware of the country’s decades-long war.
Copyright: Caritas/Michelle Hough

By Michelle Hough, Caritas Internationalis communications officer

What with a police helicopter hovering over the Caritas offices for hours yesterday afternoon, I kept thinking about the film Apocalypse Now rather than writing a blog on Caritas Italiana’s book “Markets of War”*… and it was driving me a bit crazy.

Rome was not quite burning but was simmering with unrest yet again. More demonstrations and discontent yesterday – much like in other southern European countries. When I watched the Italian news last night I saw tens of thousands of students and workers marching through the streets of various Italian cities, clashes with the police and a lot of disruption. There was also lots of coverage of floods in central Italy and the Tiber almost breaking its banks in central Rome.

In all of this Colombia doesn’t stand much of a chance really, does it? If Italians are witnessing total chaos on their own doorstep reported on their nightly news, they’re not going to be that interested in the 50-year-plus conflict in Colombia, the disintegration of Somalia or the on-going armed conflict in the Philippines.

This is just one of the issues raised in Markets of War: Report on Finance and Poverty, Environment and Forgotten Conflicts* (available in Italian), which has been published by our colleagues at Caritas Italiana. Produced in collaboration with the Italian magazines “Famiglia Cristiana” and “Il Regno”, it was launched in Rome yesterday morning.

“The media has a huge responsibility,” said Paolo Beccegato, head of the international desk at Caritas Italiana and co-author of the book. “Italians aren’t very well informed about international conflicts. If interesting stories are told, people would be more engaged.”

Sometimes, one simple picture can convey the sense and devastation of a war, such as the little Vietnamese girl snapped running away from a napalm attack on her village after she’d been burned, said Don Francesco Soddu, director of Caritas Italiana

The book, is packed with analysis about the causes of war and the destabilising effects of the current economic and political situations on States. It looks at the issues of poverty, democracy, the arms trade and financial speculation. There’s a particular focus on the news coverage of conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya, which receive a good share of news hours, and the wars in Somalia, the Philippines and Colombia, which are under-reported in all media.

“At Caritas Italiana we see a direct effect on how much solidarity people show in terms of action and donations if a humanitarian crisis due to war is under-reported,” says Paolo.

Walter Nanni from Caritas Italiana’s research office goes on to say that Italian radio does cover conflicts more than the TV, but the coverage is rarely in depth.

“What’s more,” says Walter, “for Italians to be really interested in a conflict story, there has to be something really striking in it such as many deaths or Italian citizens involved somehow.”

He pointed out that in the time of crisis such as the one we’re living in now, people tend to draw into themselves and not be so open to what is going on around them. I suppose when you’ve got tear bombs and firecrackers exploding in your own streets and helicopters hovering over your heads, you do become more concerned with what’s going off in your own backyard rather than in some faraway country.

One of the many facts to come out of the book which stayed with me was that more wars were registered in 2011 than in any year since the end of the Second World War. A total of 388.

The first questions are, how many have we seen reported on the news and how many could we name? The second question is, as individuals, as Caritas and as nations as a whole, what are we doing to help the people in these countries?

*Official title: “Mercati di Guerra. Rapporto di ricerca su finanza e povertà, ambiente e conflitti dimenticati.”

Find out more in Italian.