22 April 2012

Mind Your Media

In a few hours time the Bahrain Grand Prix will take place and the ruling monarchy will have won a publicity battle to show the world that all is well in their kingdom. Really? That is what we are told in the media, but it seems to me it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unwittingly, Formula 1, through its desperation to follow the money and ensure the event took place at all costs, has actually brought more attention to the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain than could ever have been achieved by domestic protestors or a few of the more intrepid journalists. It provided both a focal point for local protest and the international media circus to report on it.

Sadly though this highlights the way in which the media distorts the prism through which we all experience the world. Short of having contacts around the world, virtually all of us are dependent on our media for our view of international events, and it is well for us to remember that the view we get is far from an impartial one.

“We don’t like Syria” so the unrest there is covered extensively, while in Bahrain “who are good trading partners” protests go unreported. Granted the situation in Syria is far more advanced and serious than in Bahrain, but is that any reason to ignore the latter? Just ask yourself, how many times did you hear about the political situation in Bahrain on the news in the year before this grand prix?
The selective reporting of what is considered newsworthy has an enormous impact on public opinion and that as we know is deeply important to our politicians. It’s just one of the ways in which our press in particular play a disproportionate role in setting the political agenda.

What is scary (in my opinion) is the degree to which the media and the press in particular, has allowed itself to become a vehicle for the public relations industry. I would highly recommend anyone to read Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, which exposes the way the print media has, in many ways, abdicated responsibility for checking or even originating stories in favour of rehashing press releases or running items picked up from the newswires.

Perhaps even more important though than how some events are reported is the fact that so many are not. Keeping something out of the media can be even more important than getting the right coverage, bringing us back to the case of Bahrain. It is also the ultimate expression of power, typically by the state, to be able to tell the media what it can and cannot report.

It is too much to ask that the media should suddenly change and offer us a wider and more balanced perspective on the world, so the emphasis has to be on each of us to seek out alternative views to flesh out our understanding of what is really going on. The internet gives us that opportunity in a way that has never before existed, but it also offers a lot of opinion served up as fact, so we need to stay sceptical at all times.

There is good information out there and if you spend a little time you can find some good reliable, alternative sources. Even Twitter, fatuous though much of its content may be, can be an excellent source of information if you follow the right people and organisations.
Cartoons from QW Magazine

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