Sunday, September 19, 2010

The two sides of media

The other day I was watching some news and came across a very disturbing piece of information. The visuals affected me. And yet here I was a helpless spectator to a horrendous crime who could do nothing except feel stressed out, worry and fret. In the end, other than making me anxious, the piece of information didn’t do anything. I mean, I don’t want the media to tell me what a scary world we live in. I already know that. So what is indeed to be gained from these reports?
Day in and day out, bad news filter into our eggshell existence, serving us fresh stress with breakfast. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about.
Now there are some story’s that need to be told. Those, that awaken the seed of uprising in us against menaces. A story, that catapults us into action and we look to change the order. But the repeated flashing visuals of crime and killing have dulled us in to inaction. There is only so much we can do in our lives with dwindling spare time. It has snowballed in to a monster that we know we cannot defend. It is like this blaze that has gotten too high, while you are fighting the fire with pails of water. Suddenly the whole house is on fire. And well you sigh and just give up.
Is the media aiming to inform us, or is it competing to sensationalise misery? Are we becoming addicted to misery so much that it doesn’t feel normal not to get our daily dose of it? This media ‘sensationalization’, if there is a term like that, is exactly the fuel that terrorists, for instance, need. Terror never worked better than in today’s time when within minutes the news is flashed across the globe via news channels and internet, receiving prime time coverage. The most televised event of the century has got to be the 9/11 attack. Do you think it would have been so huge in a time when Baird was yet to invent the television? If Jesus was crucified today I can’t imagine the dire consequences. We all know the brighter side of the media. But the darker side of it is getting swept under the rug.
There is a human tendency. The mob tendency. In a mob, the sanest of man tries to emulate another. One man in a peaceful group of protesters throws a bottle and in the heat of events it encourages everyone to follow suit. Oh so you have never been in a mob? Have you been in a queue where one man breaks the line to get ahead and suddenly all the others realize that it is the easier way to get ahead? Have you seen these charity collection boxes on shop counters? Imagine if it was empty. Would you contribute? But when its half full of notes, you find valediction to join the club. On a serious note, one farmer commits suicide. He had the tendencies to, plus the circumstance of bad monsoons and escalating debt. And lo the news spreads like bushfire. And very soon the whole lot in a similar situation find it the perfect solution to their problems. “Thats something you can do”. A student, stressed out of studies and expectations, commits suicide because his results where poor. Millions of innocent teenage minds, very impressionable, see the report again and again on TV in ever increasing number of News channels and suddenly he sees a way to escape. The news room reports impartially. Without judging. Merely stating the fact. He killed himself by hanging. Well why don’t they also explain why it happened and what people can do to avoid it? A student in school angry at being teased by his teacher brings his father’s pistol and shoots him. Just watch. Not long after that report, there will be another report of a similar incident and then another. (This is not a figment of my imagination. Do read ‘Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Galdwell for more on this phenomenon). When the 26/11 attacks took place, we all watched the drama live. Was it only shock and rage or was there a thrill attached, not dissimilar to a reality show unfolding where you can’t wait to find out if the contestant will be eliminated or not? Terrorists need only a handful of ammunition to kill. Their real weapon when it comes to terrorising is the media. And the media lap up the events and serve it hot and steamy to our conditioned palates. We devour them, addicted, asking for more.
And media is big business. Look at all the mikes with the corporate media logo prominently displayed, thrust unabashedly on the faces of grieving victims. The number of mikes increases with every passing day. It is a big pie that promises to get bigger with even a small piece worth a fortune.
I think the days of newspapers and radio, were better. You learnt all that is there to. You saw limited visuals in print. You knew what was happening. And yet it didn’t stress you out. The greatest revolutions in history didn’t need the media to tell them what was happening and what they should do.
So, for your own good, limit watching TELEVISION NEWS. And have the courage to change channels when you perceive sensationalism vis-a’-vis concerned responsible reporting.
You will argue,” If it wasn’t for the media we wouldn’t know all the things that were happening around the world.” Oh . So now you know. And? What are you doing about it? Other than worry??

Footnote:
It must be a coincidence. I wrote that and took this book up for reading. A book I’ve been planning to read for quite some time now. It is called ‘An ordinary person’s guide to EMPIRE’, written in her customary simple but penetrative style by Arundhati Roy. I take the liberty to quote from the first chapter.
...“The world over, non-violent resistance movements are being crushed and broken. If we do not respect and honour them, by default we privilege those who turn to violent means...
...When governments and media lavish all their time, attention, funds, research, space, sophistication, and seriousness on war talk and terrorism, then the message that goes out is disturbing and dangerous. If you seek to air and redress a public grievance, violence is more effective than non-violence...”

Unquote.

3 comments:

anilkurup said...

Visual news are graphic. This was not so when news came through the radio.
Today's scourge terror has a brother in arms - 'the visual media' and what fantastic impact the deed will have when aired visually.
AS for Ms Roy there are a few sane thinkers around still, but the ones who rule us are different genre.

Balachandran V said...

K, thats what I do, I switch channels. Fine, I am safe, but what about the rest of the society? Sometimes I have felt like shooting the journalist bastards - it is equally bad in print media, you know. Personally, I feel, the only channel ( other than movie channels) decent enough to watch is Doordarshan.
A very well written article.

kaalpanique said...

thanq anil and B. i agree with the doordarshan bit. actually i have found that 9x news is a much saner affair. i worry about the ppl watching crappy channels like star news and aajtak...there shud be a regulatory body out there...