It’s been a weekend full of horror and tragedy. First reports from Norway of almost 100 dead, mostly young people, in two politically motivated terrorist attacks. Then one of my favourite soul singers and arguably one of the best women to influence popular music in a long time, Amy Winehouse, was found dead in her London flat. Not to mention the on going child famine in Somalia, the awful lack of funding and aid, and dozens dead in China after a train collision.
All are horrifying, all sickening, and I don’t agree that they should exist in a scale of tragedy. However, this blog post isn’t about my condolences (though they certainly exist) but more about how we as citizens received this news, and how we reacted to it.
The first thing that struck me (a point magnified after the phone hacking scandal) was to what extent the media really does dictate to us, the public, what is considered important at any one time. During the phone hacking scandal, not even children dying in Somalia could bump the crumbling of Murdoch’s empire off the top spot. The ultimate irony of the situation came to a head on Radio 4’s Today programme, with the news outlet reporting that spokespeople in Somalia & the UK were incredibly concerned that the news was eclipsing the crisis. Nevertheless, hacking was still leading the programme in every news bulletin, with Somalia’s desperate pleas for aid and funding coming second or third. Disturbing.
Yes, the decimation of power structures in the UK is really fascinating. Many of us who hated Murdoch before it was cool suspected these power collusions all along. Phone hacking is the news story that keeps on giving, but the fact that child famine was side lined as a consequence was very worrying. I’m convinced (based on no evidence other than my own opinion) that news dictates what we think and talk to each other about, current affairs-wise. The news tells us what to consider important.
Amy Winehouse’s death provoked a very scary divide between social media commentators (read= any Janine and Joe Bloggs within typing distance of a laptop or phone with internet access). This divide cut through those who understand that addiction is an illness and that Amy didn’t deserve to die because of it, and those who deemed her drug and drink use as a condemning factor in her short life.
The idea of a tragedy scale also seemed to emerge, with some social media types suggesting that we could only be sad about one thing at a time, or that one was more important than the other. I don’t subscribe to that view, but did find the fact that many on my facebook newsfeed expressed grief for Amy, but hadn’t uttered a peep about the acts of terrorism in Norway very very disturbing. The argument that both tragedies are equally awful doesn’t really work if only one is acknowledged.
In the early reports of the Norwegian tragedy, some media outlets linked the terrorism to Al Qaeda without any evidence. That’s dangerous. When the man was exposed as fan of the far right, there appeared to be an element of surprise in reporting. And why wouldn’t there be? The rise of far right activism across Europe has been largely ignored in the broadcast media of late. Some of us had stopped being concerned about it. The news tells us what to consider important.
There was the media’s reluctance to call a spade a spade and brand this man a terrorist. He was called crazy, and a madman, and an extremist. BBC news 24’s rolling coverage defined the man as a right wing Christian fundamentalist. It seems if a white bloke does it, he must be a crazed extremist, but if a Muslim man does it, it’s because he’s Muslim. In fact, as two acts of terrorism had happened on the same day, media outlets were bending over backwards to find any sort of relation to brown people. Queue interviewers asking Norwegian officials questions about multiculturalism, immigration, and (surprise surprise) Islam. It was like an epic exercise in victim blaming- a depressing attempt to incriminate multiculturalism for the horrific attacks, rather than one disgusting man and his gun.
But really, who is ‘the news’, and why does he/she/they hold the monopoly one what leads as story, and what doesn’t? More often than not, this ghostly figure is just a select number of editors across the country. Leading stories depend on their discretion which is why it’s no coincidence that Rupert Murdoch and certain party leaders were lunching away together.
Don’t passively consume this stuff. Cast a critical eye, and question everything.