I arrived at work last Saturday. In the corridors, I heard the cleaners talking about the Paris attacks. I went into the tea room and the TV was showing a rolling coverage. I stopped and watched but as time was short I left.
After I finished my training session, I checked the latest news. I was drawn in by the coverage. I was interested in Paris. My sister and her husband had only been there a few weeks ago. My cousin is visiting now. I have friends who have lived in France. I have friends now living in France.
Since then there have been articles decrying the media focus on France. One article led to a discussion about the lack of focus on Beirut or Sinai or Kenya or even the events in Mali: that it was the media’s fault that attention was mostly focused on France. I did know about the Beirut car bomb and was following the latest information on the downing of the Russian airliner in the Sinai and remembered the Kenyan atrocities from earlier this year. But I still focused on France.
And today the topic recurred with the media coverage of the Reclaim Australia and UDP anti-Islamic rallies and the corresponding counter rallies.
Again the same comment was offered that it was the media’s fault that these rallies were getting unwarranted publicity. My response to both was this:
It’s easy to say it’s the media’s fault : they’ve done their market research and focus their message accordingly. Much like market researchers for the low-end Australian current affairs shows such as A Current Affair (ACA) or Today Tonight : their focus was to find the right people and stories to satisfy that given audience: journalism doesn’t come into it at all.
The truth is the media are following the audience. The other stories were there : it’s just that less people were interested. Me included.
All the media does is reinforce our existing prejudices. For example, if Reclaim Australia, UDP, Trump, Carson, etc, etc want to find facts that denigrate Muslims and Islam, they will. The media following the audience will report that.
There’s a passage in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 that describes it perfectly. In it the hero’s boss describes how the media gives people exactly what they want to hear. At first it appears that the media does the thinking for its audience. But the audience doesn’t want to think for itself! Read it.
For me as an adult educator, it’s no surprise.
It’s exactly the way we learn : we fit facts to what we already know and believe.
Until we chance on information that doesn’t fit our prejudices. Then and only then, we choose to change or ossify.
The media can provoke our thoughts and feelings enabling us to confront our prejudices as good journalism and good education (dare I say it) should.
But for the media really to change, our prejudices must as well.