In the latest guest blog by POLIS Summer School students, Elizabeth Morten describes her reaction to a talk given by Antonella Notari, the Communications Chief for the International Committee for the Red Cross in which she tried to explain how the
Upon hearing Antonella Notari discuss her work with the International Committe of the Red Cross, I felt very disheartened in the narrow scope of the media coverage of the realistic conditions that scar our world. I also felt discouraged in what little aid can be given to these war-fraught nations that suffer from immense corruption. The truth is media consumers do not want to turn on the television or open a newspaper only to be bombarded with the suffering that runs rampant throughout our world. This response to suffering is human nature, we would much rather expose ourselves to pleasantness than read about horrific conditions in warring nations, not to mention, media consumers do not like to receive information on situations that little can be done to relieve. While I understand these conditions are a fact of journalistic coverage, I feel that the media is responsible for leaving the consumers uninformed. I also felt compelled to make a difference and to put forth an effort in informing myself of these universal realities of corruption and suffering in the future. This lack of information in mainstream media leaves the average media consumer in the dark. Moreover, I think a great deal of media consumers prefer to be in the dark when the topic is human suffering, yet I wonder if the truth of the matter is that media consumers simply do not care when the suffering is not close to home?Ultimately, when suffering doesn’t affect an individual, it ought to still be the horrifying truth that does matter and I think it is a journalist’s responsibility to pass on the painstaking truths that flood underdeveloped countries. Currently, it is appalling how poorly the average developed-nation’s media consumers are informed of the suffering that is deeply entrenched in other parts of our world.
By Elizabeth Morten, POLIS Summer School, 2007
It is indeed important to be aware that while we are overwhelmed by information in our Western societies we are not necessarily more knowledgable about the reality of daily life in crisis areas nor even of the often complex reasons and motors of a crisis. However, the mass media are in my opinion not the only ones to blame, firstly because they cannot be expected to rise high above the expectations and demands of their publics, secondly because when they do, as for example with some public service media, they still need to make choices that relate to their home public. Furthermore, my experience is that many journalists actually do try to cover stories about human suffering and injustice – but we tend to filter them out, mainly because we feel disturbed but powerless. The good news is that there are a wide range of alternative information sources that are largely available and that provide reliable information, e.g. reports by organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, my own organisation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and many others. Still, the fundamental question about the citizens’ possibility to act on suffering and injustice often remains difficult to answer. My impression is that there is a strong current demanding a fairer and less brutal world but it meets with enourmous obstacles not least those generated by our own life-style. To end on a more constructive note, I read an impressive portrait of the news photographer Robert Semeniuk in the Seattle Times of 12th August by Paula Bock called “Terrible Truths; Photographer Robert Semeniuk won’t let us look away”, that testifies to a life devoted to not letting us off the hook when it comes to sharing the pain of others. Just to show that the kind of people who will keep telling/showing the uglier stories do exist – real heroes in my world.
Thank you for the mindful thoughts about media.
I couldn’t agree more.