The September 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview (from 01:46:26 here) in which presenter Sarah Montague discussed the question ‘are more black people now being shot by police in the US?’ with the Guardian’s Gary Younge.
At around 01:48:57 Younge made the following statement:
“…a black man’s life expectancy in DC is lower than a man’s life expectancy on the Gaza Strip…”
Montague interjected incredulously:
“Seriously? Sorry, but that is an…a startling statistic – if it’s true.”
Younge: “Absolutely. According to CIA figures about life expectancy in the Gaza Strip and the government figures on black life expectancy in DC, that was certainly true last time I looked.”
So was Montague’s scepticism justified?
According to a study published by Georgetown University in 2016:
“While life expectancy has improved for all populations in the city, Black residents do not fare as well as other racial groups. For example, White males in the District are expected to live almost 15 years longer than Black males (83.2, 68.8, respectively). White females in the District are expected to live approximately 9 years longer than Black females (85.2, 76.2, respectively).”
According to the CIA World Factbook, male life expectancy in the Gaza Strip is 72.3 years (est 2016) – i.e. 3.5 years higher than for Black males in DC – and the Gaza Strip is placed 110th out of 224 countries in terms of general life expectancy; above countries including Turkey, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Egypt. Moreover, according to the World Bank, male life expectancy in the PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip rose by over four years in the period between 1990 and 2014.
Given the style and framing of BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip over the years, it is not overly surprising to see that Sarah Montague was ‘startled’ by what was obviously for her counter-intuitive information. Her reaction does however demonstrate the effect that narrative-driven reporting has on shaping audience ‘common knowledge’.