No-one can deny the power of media to precipitate change, even in a world awash with global disasters that would make audience fatigue understandable (almost). It’s ability to illuminate, to evoke empathy and sympathy and to make real for audiences that which is far away and far removed from their daily reality are tatamount to its power.
There are myriad reasons why we should care about far away suffering and events, from humanitarian and political to economic. The advent of television and its role in keeping us abreast to has been tremendously effective in fomenting emotions and grievances and in bringing about demands for social justice. Lest not forget, despite years of Jim Crow, lynchings and state sanctioned oppression, it wasn’t until televison began showing images of Bull Connor and Southern policemen spraying blacks with waterhoses and meting out beatings that good Northern white folks felt compelled to advocate to advocate for change giving a boost to the Civil Rights movement. But media outlets had to make the decision to show those pictures and to present it in such a way that viewers found evocative and would galvanize the public into action, even if it meant rejection accepted societal and government policies. Lillie Chouliaraki explains that from the fragmentation perspective “satellite media may be global in technological scope but is designed to be regional in cultural reach, serving the interests and desires of specific media publics.” For instance, that Israeli-Palestinian clashes depicted in US media show images of Jewish suffering and destruction of Israeli interests by Palestinian is due in large part that to US’ relationship with and
psotion towards Israeli and the significant percentage of media owned by Jewish Americans. Showing audiences what is happening on the ground and to whom it is happening is hugely impactful and speaks to what is human and relatable. Does it dictate or is it highly suggestive of who and what situations to care and advocate for? Maybe that’s a stretch, but does it play a large role? Certainly. Unless an individual possess specialized knowledge, interest, experience, training or education in international relations, for the average American, the knitty gritty of nation-states’ interactions and are limited to a few minutes of hurried explanations from a slightly harried news anchor. But now these happenings are on the forefront of national and daily realities given the impact of dual wars on our society.
Disaster, acts of terrorism and violence sells. Just ask the networks during sweeps week. Indignation and empathy is interspersed with blatant marketization: We support the people of Haiti in their time of need; use you Verizon Wireless to text/get up-to-the minute news. It may sound cyncical but Chouliaraki is right: suffering and violence is important in international reporting just as long as fits into the cobditions of infoitainment if not it has little value. In issues that require more in-depth reporting than the standard schpiel packaged and guarenteed to illicit a knee-jerk response, the underpinnings and intricacies beyond the headlines are rarely explained. The author posits that news on suffering is not represented according to political or humanitarian magnitude but rather according to what is palatable and/or of consequence to Western audiences. Of this, there is noe doubt, as empirical evidence illustrates.
Westen has been largely successful in catering to western interest and audiences, to making Western suffering and concerns more crucial, somehow more human than others across the world and of stoking teh sentiment thatthe further away from the West one is the less human or relevant that suffereing or situation is. In America, do we care less, when less Americans or Westerners are impacted? There are a number of events that argue against this in this information era where events have an immediacy that was absent say ten years ago.
I hold out great hope for citizen witness and independent media. It is less likely to have a political or commercia agenda. Citizen witnesses turned journalist/humanitarian are usually gallvanized into action by what they has seen and know. Additionally, nation states wherein these are are borne out of necessity. In the West, we have so much buffer to crisis as well as an abundance of reliable social and political frameworks to guarentee certain quality of living. Many non-Western countries in which depend on independent media sources and eyewitnesses reporting are needed have no such structures or securities and so must rely individual inclination to act to precipitate change.