Evil media? It’s not a conspiracy. It’s our own short-sightedness

How and why has the international media ignored protests in Bulgaria, Brazil and, even EgyptJem Collins sheds light on the reason so many journalists leave important stories on the shelf.

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Bulgarian protests have mainly been ignored by the international press

Being a well-informed world citizen is simple. Newspapers, radio, rolling 24-hour news channels, live twitter feeds and websites are all just a tiny part of the sprawling international offering that makes news consumption effortless.

It is also extremely important. Without a good grounding in news and current affairs we become isolated, whether on a local, national or international scale. And if we isolate ourselves from other cultures we lose the ability to empathise with their problems, resolve conflicts or even simply understand the world around us.

Keeping ourselves informed of new developments is also empowering; it gives us the tools and knowledge to help us change things that we believe are fundamentally wrong. After all, how can you successfully oppose something if you do not know that it is happening or the context surrounding it?

So, we ask ourselves, how is it, that in this massive global network of information it can feel like we know less than ever before? Just this week reports came in of mass protests in Bulgaria, with thousands of people on the streets in the cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas in anger at an allegedly undemocratic government.

But it is a story that has largely been ignored by the mainstream media – you will not find this news on your Sky TV sets or BBC twitter feed.  It is also a story that is just one of countless others, not worth even a passing mention on the inside page of your quality broadsheet. How many people have heard of the Icelandic protests of the early 2000s that led to country’s financial reform for example? Or what of the horrific rape of countless young men and women in the US army?

From a few scattered examples alone it is clear that there is an inherent bias in the way we report the world, but why? Is it, as some suggest, a conspiracy perpetuated by our governments to keep us from rioting against the traditional power norms? Perhaps we should be looking a little closer to home.

In 1965 two media researchers, Johan Galtung and Marie Ruge, attempted to discover exactly what makes ‘news’. After detailed analysis of scores of international news stories they came up with a list of things all the stories had in common; what they called news values. Ranging from continuity to meaningfulness, their final list of 12 ingredients to a “good news story” still says a lot about our society’s effect on the media.

While many other researchers have suggested additions or modifications to Galtung and Ruge’s initial points over the past five decades, they still all broadly fit within three categories; audience identification, pragmatics of media coverage and impact. Note the first grouping in particular. Put simply, if a story does not conform to what an audience relates to, media organisations will not cover it.

In the society of today we are only really interested in ourselves; stories from far-flung destinations do not sell and neither do those from countries with vast cultural differences. If the audience does not see how the story is relevant to them, it just will not work. Whatever our high minded expectations of the press to hold power to account, media organisations still need to pay the bills and ultimately exist to make money. Papers, broadcasters and online organisations alike select the stories their audiences are interested in reading – which is not necessarily the same as the ones they should be reading.

And what of the internet, heralded as the arrival of infinite knowledge for all? Surely we now know more than we ever did before? Not so, argues Professor James Curran of Goldsmiths. The internet may well be filled with limitless ideas and information, but that does not mean the traditional giants do not hold the most sway.  In the UK, for example, the top ten list of most visited news websites does not contain any surprises with the BBC, MailOnline and the Guardian heading up the top.

Perhaps most poignantly, however, the internet gives us an opportunity to ignore what we do not want to see. Don’t want to read about the protests in Bulgaria? No worries, there are thousands of cat videos waiting for you instead.

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Harmless fun? The pitfalls of ‘Rate My Shag’ culture

It’s time to reassess how ‘fun’ some facebook pages really are, writes Jem Collins.

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During the last month, social networks have witnessed an explosion of “Rate A Shag” pages, where users are actively encouraged to rate their partners’ performance for all to see.  As one page for the University of Kent, now banned, asked: “Have any stories about your conquests? A ‘mistake’ you need to get off your chest? Or just want to give credit where its due for a job well done? Well here is your chance!”

It’s simple: just send a private message with the full name of your unsuspecting partner, a rating out of ten and any other notes you wish to add. What could be simpler? The page admins will even keep your name anonymous to spare any unwanted embarrassment. Don’t worry about feeling guilty for divulging private information either – it’s only “bantz, a bit of harmless fun” one student explains to me. Except sexual humiliation simply isn’t funny.

Whether you see sex as part of a long-term loving relationship or simply a recreational activity to fill time on a Sunday afternoon, there’s no denying that it’s one of the most intimate acts possible between two humans. It leaves us almost entirely exposed; and not just in terms of flesh on show. Making love, bonking, getting jiggy with it… Whatever you call it and whatever the circumstances surrounding it, sex is unquestionably an agreement of privacy and trust between two people. It leaves us at our most emotionally vulnerable and, for the most part, what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t talk about sex; on the contrary. Frank and open discussions about intercourse and its implications provide a clear benefit to society. Malicious online shaming, however, does not. One student I spoke to about such pages was aghast. “It’s absolutely disgusting. Firstly there’s no way to prove that somebody has ever spoken to or seen a person, let alone slept with them, and even then it’s a vindictive way of verbally abusing someone.”

Indeed, the whole system is inherently biased towards abuse. Protecting the name of the writer offers a further cloak of cyber anonymity and a clear opportunity for misuse. Of course we should all be free to be as liberal as we like when discussing our own sex lives – but not at the cost of someone else’s dignity.

And sexual humiliation can have devastating consequences. Charities and police forces alike have reported countless calls from “hysterical” teenagers, upset at rumours posted anonymously online. One 22 year old told the BBC she was even approached at work following an online “slut shaming”. She said: “There was a boy who had the webpage up and pointed at me and said, ‘Oh, so if I gave you twenty quid what would you do for me? My main worry was that my dad saw it. The moment he would have seen my name and the word sex by it, I knew that it would have cause uproar. He would fly me to the rest of the family in [the middle east]. It would be all over. I would never see England again and that would be how I’d live.” The girl even said she considered taking her own life.

While the main bulk of sites linked to universities have been shut down, the problem is far from gone. Copycat sites spring up in seconds and the Facebook staff themselves admit they’re having trouble keeping on top of the problem.  Perhaps more worrying, however, is the internet culture that is creating and feeding these sites and millions others like them.

The web may offer countless opportunities, but its very nature distances us from real life and morality. In the cyber world we’re all one step removed from our own identities – we can be whoever we want to be and do whatever we want to do – and crucially we’re one step removed from the consequences of our actions. The internet doesn’t come with tangible faces, voices or feelings, leading to a dangerous breeding ground of abuse, cruelty and humiliation that’s all too tangible for the victims.

So before you press enter on that “hilarious” picture of the weird looking guy to the “Spotted in _____” page, or reveal all on last night’s encounter, stop and think for a second. Would you really drag someone up on stage in front of millions of people to yell that they are crap in bed? Didn’t think so.