Friday, October 26, 2018

How monetisation of the media has influenced truth in reporting and the representation of complex issues

Every time you turn around these days, you hear someone criticizing the media. Claims of bias, lies, fake news and agendas are thrown around very often, by politicians, and celebrities, but most viciously by the journalists themselves. It’s like reporters have given up searching for facts because they are too busy throwing stones across an ever-widening chasm of conflicting ideals. We in the western world are quick to throw stones at countries that control the media, like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, or most infamously, China. And we are up in arms for murdered journalists like Jamal Khashoggi, crying with shrill voices that a free press is the cornerstone of a good democracy. But I think we all know that it’s been a long time since the news media was truly free. Media is the worst example of the free market veering off its path to the detriment of everyone in pursuit of low effort, easy money. The recent reporting about the seven-thousand refuges, escaping gang violence in Honduras by fleeing to the US, is yet another example of journalism splitting down political lines to and take pot shots at each other with hollow, unfounded and alarmist rhetoric. From warning us not to believe everything we read, to Fox News warning us that these people are bringing economic ruin and disease, this real issue, where the lives of real people hang in the balance, has become yet another battleground for the media to attack each other without any need for pesky for facts to get involved.

The best example of this callous disregard for facts is a story which managed to construct a six hundred-and six-word news story about an eleven-word speculation from the president. Let me quote it for you. “There's no proof of anything. But they (terrorists) could very well be (inside the caravan).” This ridiculous news story drags on for pages centering on what even the president admitted was only a guess. This news story adds nothing of substance to the debate.

But if only all the articles were this vapid.  Fox news has a different take on the event, labelling it “an invasion into this country.” On The Ingram Angle, Laura Ingraham talks to a couple of experts about the event, but it’s her questions that really stand out. In a question that takes nearly 30 seconds to ask, she calls it a national security issue, an economic issue, a schooling and a healthcare issue. She highlights the range of wild diseases the people “might” bring into the country. She’s hitting the appeal to fear, again and again, beating up anxiety over sickness, and security with very little information in her report. She calls the situation “a national emergency, maybe most of them are unarmed, we don’t know, this is an invasion into this country.” This is a ludicrous statement. The only unarmed invasion is a zombie invasion, and zombies aren’t real. But what I think is most disturbing about this kind of reporting is the number of times the pundits in this kind of show can say “Might,” “maybe,” and “we don’t know,” and never be asked Why don’t you know? If this is the news, and you don’t know anything, why am I listening to you? Why are any of us watching these people who don’t even know what’s going on?

Misinformation is one thing, but lack of information is reprehensible. So you’ll be happy to know that Wired has us covered. At least, a little bit. In its article ALERT: Don’t believe everything you read about the Migrant caravan we get a one-hundred-and-forty word summary about the event including the date it began, “the 13th of October,” where it began, “northern Honduras.” How many people are marching, “around 7,500,” and how far it is to the US border, “approximately 2,000 miles.” Great, now I know slightly more than nothing about what’s going on. What’s really unfortunate that instead of continuing on with the detail about the underlying problems that caused this massive group of people to make a dangerous trek across inhospitable countries with their children clutched in their arms, Wired goes on with nearly seven hundred words of navel-gazing discussing not the issue, but what other news outlets are reporting about the issue. This doesn’t even include the other 130 words of introduction about the crisis of trust that currently plagues the media.

The media is a business which needs to make money, and the problem with that is that finding out things is extremely time-consuming, and expensive. You can imagine that to find out what is really happening with these refugees you would need to send a person to talk to them, and another one to Honduras to interview people there who know the situation. You would need to spend time sorting out facts from lies and to write that up in a calm and responsible manner. It’s a lot more expedient to simply say, “we don’t know,” and then report on what someone else has said. Even if that other person has no idea what’s going on either. When even the president has, “no proof,” should we expect more from our media?

My answer to that is yes. We do need to expect more from our media, but sadly at the moment, that’s not what we are getting. There is a pathological unwillingness in this modern age to engage with real issues on a deep and complex level. Media these days is little more than weeping and gnashing of teeth. It has become a competition about who can make the wildest unfounded speculation and the winner is the one who can get the most clicks before getting sued. What has happened to the public interest standard? Prior to the 1980s media companies were required to provide programming that was in the public interest, and the news was seen as good for society, but not good fur the hip pocket. How can we get back to honesty?

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