We all know what happened in Paris last week. It was all over the news, and there is not a detail that the media hasn’t told us about. My Twitter feed is constantly telling me about the progress on that matter. Each of us felt for and prayed for Paris and its people. My country, unique as always, decided to show solidary by lighting up its jewel with the Dutch flag instead of the French.
Where and how did I learn about what happened in Paris? To be honest, my twitter feed. That’s where I read most news because –
- It’s convenient to follow
- I get everything right from New York Times to Bombay Times on a single screen
- It’s on my cellphone, and
- I cannot stand most Indian news channels. I learn little and end up with a migraine.
Something else happened last week, something just as terrible and just as huge in magnitude. Double suicide bombings in Beirut claimed dozens of lives. This too, was perpetrated by the ISIS.
Where did I learn about this one? Again, from my Twitter feed. But, this time is was different. Unlike the news from Paris, I learnt about Beirut not from news media feeds, but from multiple retweets from several random handles that alleged that while the world wept for Paris, Beirut bled forgotten and ignored.
Facebook too, was full of such enraged posts. We all hate the media for its insensitivity and bias. And this was yet another incident where it failed. I found myself bobbing my head in agreement with many of these posts.
But then journalists began to pick up their pens (laptops?) to show us the mirror. Soon, these posts were all over my Twitter and Facebook feed. They make you take a step back, stop pointing fingers, and introspect for a minute.
Let me talk about myself here. As I said before, most of the news I read is through Twitter. Lets just say social media. What is social media? Who creates content in social media? In the first instance, it may come from figures of authority or importance, regardless of the genre. But its readership is often determined by the readers – through shares, retweets, replies, etc. Readers get to decide what gets read and how much.
As it turns out, the media did cover Beirut extensively. It also covered Baghdad and Abuja. We, as readers, somehow managed to ensure that everyone knew about Paris and few about the others.
This article from The Guardian explains it succinctly – “Social media and, more crucially, the ability of new organisations to gauge which stories get the most hits, attention and circulation, mean that we are now as guilty of determining the agenda as editors are, if not more. There is something sanctimonious, maybe even hypocritical, about placing the onus purely on the media – they are often only reflecting back our chatter and activity back at us.”
However, because the media has left me rather cynical – I ask myself – while all this is true, and while I share the responsibility here, should I believe all that is said in these articles? Or is this yet another skillful move by the media to manipulate us?
Let us assume, in this case, that we as consumers of news are almost entirely responsible for ignoring Beirut and the Middle East in general. Why did this happen? That article from The Guardian attempts to explain this by acknowledging the “simple limitations of what we can care about, its proximity to home…”
There is also the element of attention. We are all so accustomed to hearing about violence in the Middle East that it has almost become “normal”. But in Paris, on the other hand – the land of art and culture and fine wine – violence is an aberration. It catches the eye and we give it some time.
But this is not an isolated incidence. I remember there were many who complained about the lack of coverage of the suicide bombing in Nigeria because everybody was solely focused on the shootings at the office of Charlie Hebdo. That attack in Nigeria involved a 10 year old child used as a suicide bomber. Boko Haram had also killed over 2000 civilians in Baga just a few days before that.
Perhaps even this can be attributed to the apathetic attitude of readers towards Africa and our interest in France. The West because they can relate to it, the East because we are enchanted by all things white and beautiful.
But this whole phenomenon isn’t just related to who we care about and who we don’t. This also has to do with what we care about. And what the world cares about.
For instance, the greatest environmental disaster of this century has happened. The scale is massive, it is terrifying, and as one journalist describes, it is an eco-apocalypse. Entire cities are in flames, natural resources are depleting and species are vanishing at an unthinkable rate. And this is no tiny island no one has heard of. It’s Indonesia.
I did some checking. Turns out, except some reports from New York Times, The Guardian (the most extensive), CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC and few others, this event has received little to no media coverage. Indian media has absolutely nothing to say about it, and we are in the same continent. So the whole theory about the limitation of proximity doesn’t apply here.
Tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes – things that one can blame the almighty for – we are ready to take notice. Whatever we are responsible for, we’d rather turn a blind eye. The forest fire in Indonesia is almost entirely because of uncontrolled and injudicious deforestation. Our own handiwork.
And lets face it – who has time to care about a forest fire in some Asian country when you have things like the capital markets and terrorism for worry about? Even the media decided that this event didn’t feature in the list of anybody’s priorities.
Clearly, the blame game isn’t going to help anyone. I wonder if this is inevitable, or if there is a way we can consciously inquire and read about all the things that matter and that should matter, and not just the ones that we just “happen” to come across. And this is while I turn a blind eye to the existence of paid news.
But, I will also acknowledge that the temporary guilt tripping of both sides has pushed me to check my own actions – look around, reflect on my own reading habits and decide to make some changes. Media has its issues, there is no denying that. But I am first going to make the most responsible use of what it has to offer that is of significance before I complain about its inadequacies.
PS – I know I was supposed to put up posts from 2nd Nov, but I went on a holiday and came back this Monday. More on that in the next post 😉