Tuesday, April 18, 2006

If People Die in Darfur and You Aren't Told About it - Do They Still Die?

I woke up today determined to write a brilliant analysis on superpowers and the media. Rather, having a range of studies and reports floating in my mind, I could not help but think of the ‘Be a Witness’ campaign and video I saw some time ago. The ‘Be a Witness’ video castigates the major American TV news providers for, well, ignoring Genocide in Sudan (where about 400,000-800,000 people have died in the past three years, with another 2 million becoming refugees)

While I had far loftier goals in mind I could not shake the sheer mental violence of knowing that in June 2005 the combined power of CNN, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, Fox News, and NBC was used in the following way: 485 stories on ‘the Runaway Bride’ (she didn’t show for her wedding, faked her own abduction); 6248 stories on Michael Jackson; and, 1534 stories about Tom Cruise (and his current fiancée Katie Holmes). Darfur? 128. One-hundred twenty eight. 1 – 2 – 8.

Going to write this entry I checked out Google News and was offered further proof on the true gift of some media editorial boards to retain their laser-like focus on the truly important. One of the top five news stories was, ”Tom [Cruise] to eat Katie’s [Holmes] placenta.” Fortunately there were only 131 articles on that subject. In comparison, whether the United States would take military action against Iran could be read about in 470 related news stories. I’m glad to know that a potential U.S.-Iran war rates as four times more important that Tom Cruise eating Katie Holme’s placenta. The world is heading in the right direction – so to speak.

2 comments:

Bob Hughes said...

Hi Toby,

this is the old chestnut about how much responsibility the media ought to shoulder for informing the public about the important stuff. It´s not really clear and neither is it clear who should decide what is important and what´s not. Arguably, the world´s most highly paid actor and a cover boy for the American Dream mouthing off about munching on placenta is more important than a bunch of people dying in a country few could place on the map. I can´t remember who came up with the spoof headline, "Small earthquake in Chile - not many dead".

There was an interesting piece in El País on Sunday in which photographers and cameramen wrung their hands over their own contributions to the perception that Spain´s borders and welfare state are groaning under the strain of dark-skinned barbarians wanting an illegal piece of the good life - when the reality is rather different.

Incidentally, El País - Spain´s best selling serious paper - kicks off with 14 pages of international news before you get to the Spain news.

I think people should be encouraged to look beyond their own horizons and should at least understand that this isn´t stuff that just happens "in that godawful place over there" but increasingly has an impact on the western world too. But I don´t think the media should be in charge of deciding what´s important and what isn´t - they should be left to set their news agenda according to what the market will sustain. Perhaps this is naive...

Bob Hughes said...

Hi Toby,

this is the old chestnut about how much responsibility the media ought to shoulder for informing the public about the important stuff. It´s not really clear and neither is it clear who should decide what is important and what´s not. Arguably, the world´s most highly paid actor and a cover boy for the American Dream mouthing off about munching on placenta is more important than a bunch of people dying in a country few could place on the map. I can´t remember who came up with the spoof headline, "Small earthquake in Chile - not many dead".

There was an interesting piece in El País on Sunday in which photographers and cameramen wrung their hands over their own contributions to the perception that Spain´s borders and welfare state are groaning under the strain of dark-skinned barbarians wanting an illegal piece of the good life - when the reality is rather different.

Incidentally, El País - Spain´s best selling serious paper - kicks off with 14 pages of international news before you get to the Spain news.

I think people should be encouraged to look beyond their own horizons and should at least understand that this isn´t stuff that just happens "in that godawful place over there" but increasingly has an impact on the western world too. But I don´t think the media should be in charge of deciding what´s important and what isn´t - they should be left to set their news agenda according to what the market will sustain. Perhaps this is naive...

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