“There is nothing, nothing at all, no aid… It’s an abomination, all the world can see what is happening but we have no help.”
This quote from Henry Narces, 44, appeared in an article published in the NY Daily News, just days after a 7.0 quake shook the already impoverished nation of Haiti. Reporter Christina Boyle describes everything and everyone as she sees it on the ground, and notes that those she spoke to wondered if the world was turning a blind eye to their suffering.
Perhaps without realizing it, Narces is evoking the optimistic view that the function of transnational media is to serve as agents of global connectivity, and the results we have come to expect from media coverage on human suffering. The assumption is that satellite reporting forces viewers into bearing the moral responsibility of witnessing and, with it, the burden of complicity, where inaction can no longer be blamed on the argument “we did not know.”
This is precisely what Lilie Chouliaraki argues in her article The symbolic power of transnational media : Managing the visibility of suffering. According to her, the ‘whole world is watching’ quote is not simply a statement of technological capacity but a moral claim inherent in the aesthetics of citizen journalism itself. Some argue that satellite reporting, while it brings us closer to worldwide human suffering, actually does more to highlight differences, a sense of “other,” and causes desensitization and apathy. Chouliaraki, however, describes how the management of the visibility of distant suffering contributes to generating a sense of cosmopolitanism.
Despite the perception on the ground in Haiti immediately following the January 12th quake, it is now evident that the relief effort has received unprecedented support worldwide, thanks to media coverage. The case of Haiti seems to support Chouliaraki’s view of transnational media, and how action comes through the mediated voices of civil society in their blogs and websites. The Red Cross was particularly successful in employing texting and social media to solicit donations, and online consumers turned to Twitter and blogs to share information, react to the situation and rally support. Even U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed, “the spread of information networks is forming a new nervous system for our planet” (CBC).