Huw Owen: Whilst the Olympic charade plays out, Assad continues to murder his own people

LAST NIGHT’s Evening Standard spent 28 pages giving us every tiny detail about the number of vacant seats in the Volleyball venue, and updating us on the specifics of the latest inane branding restrictions imposed by LOCOG. It was only when we got to page 30 that we learned that the genocidal President of Syria, Bashar al- Assad is busy razing the city of Aleppo – his city of Aleppo – to the ground, and that 200,000 men, women and children are trying to flee the chaos that is enveloping this latest object of Assad’s rage.

However, it’s not just the Standard that is particularly Olympics-obsessed. The BBC News website is dominated by the Games, as are the websites of every other news organisation. It’s only if you scroll down the front page of the BBC website that you find out that in addition to someone swimming a bit faster than someone else, half of India has no electricity. I’ll just repeat that. Half of India – that’s over 500 million people – are suddenly without electricity.

Back in Aleppo, the BBC’s Ian Pannell filed this intense report from the city last night. Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway might have risked their lives to shoot that footage, but hundreds of thousands of citizens of Aleppo can’t even take the risk. Those who can leave have gone. Those who are left have to resort to queuing for food from the few bakeries still open, not knowing when they will next be able to eat. Snipers sit on rooftops, waiting for someone to make a wrong move.

Assad is not stupid. He knows that the eyes of the world are trained on London for the next few weeks. The attention of the news media has been grabbed, and the front pages of the newspapers are filled with the latest twists and turns in the seemingly never-ending Olympic saga.

But it is not always like this. Millions of people worldwide were glued to their TV screens as Gadaffi fought his last stand in Libya. The rolling news channels knew nothing else. The newspapers were full of photos of Libyans in donated combat uniform firing AK-47s apparently endlessly into the air. So what has changed?

The problem is that “news” is not what it appears to be. News is what sells papers, or gets visits to a website, and what sells those papers or gets those visits is content that people want to see. If people don’t want to see it, they won’t – and it ceases to be news. But who is responsible for setting the news agenda? The consumer or the producer?

Whose fault is it that we, collectively, judge a few thousand people playing some sport to be more important that the ongoing mass slaughter of civilians in Syria? Is it the voice of the consumer saying that they do not care about the plight of these people, or is it the news media saying they shouldn’t?