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News cycle turnover: today’s worst enemy?

I was recently part of an interesting debate with sharp-minded people about the role of media in the society, and since some of you expressed a keen interest for my thinking over a specific issue, I wanted to share my thoughts with you on that topic. I promise my next post will definitely be on a lighter note.

Every day seems to bring a new round of bad news, punctuated by good news getting quickly lost within a continuous flow of information. If I wanted to be cynical (for a change), I would say it is like a soap show we are watching every day, with new plots and new characters. Remember last year, when I wrote about Sarkozy rolling out the red carpet for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (When Gaddafi met Sarkozy: faked orgasm?), I referred to this event as a new episode in the French presidency show, quickly followed by the Disney(land) fairy tale which introduced us to the soon-to-be second First Lady, Carla Bruni thus turning the page on the controversial visit by Gaddafi. See how the events follow one after the other so smoothly we (almost) don’t notice. This is just an example because this news cycle turnover rules our entire world. Television, newspapers and the Internet offer abundance of information, every day is a different day and it is like we are force-feed like geese, until we get nauseous and overwhelmed by events. Wars, corruption, injustices but also gossips; everything is mixed up and treated the same way, left as it is. If you are determined to gain accurate information for a better understanding, prepare to spend a lot of time searching for it.

It is getting harder to put real issues on the front page because our world is facing great difficulties: richest countries are heading towards a state of recession (if not already there), the gravity of environmental issues doesn’t seem to concern our governments, and impoverishment and utter destitution in some part of the world are a growing turmoil for desperate behaviors and terrorism. No wonder why one can feel lost and helpless.

Selecting and prioritizing the information has become an arduous task and because of the law of supply and demand, it complicates our relationship with the important events and issues to which are often missing the necessary details. It is so wonderful everyone can now have access to any kind of information. Thanks to the Internet, physical borders don’t exist anymore (well, not for all countries yet…) but what is the real value of information if you miss the point? If nothing is explained? Take Darfur. I remember back in 2004, 2005, 2006; when I was talking about the killings that were going on there, I heard the usual reactions like: “Darfur is like Ethiopia, they need food” or: “It’s another conflict in Africa, we can’t do much about it“. Mostly easy answers are out of touch with the real world. At this time I thought, well, it is because they don’t see the bodies of the dead yet, the victims raped and mutilated, the camps… But then in 2007, Darfur finally came under the spotlight, everybody heard about the atrocities soon to be qualified as genocide. And then what? Nothing really changed until this week when the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has filed genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Now I hope there won’t be any bad consequences for civilians, and that the already very complicated crisis won’t get worse. I could also mention Burma (Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi and a thousand monks. Again.), the Middle East conflict, the recurring starvation problems and climate catastrophes… People are getting so used to this repetition of events they now trivialize them and dining ‘en famille’ with kids watching TV news is not uncommon, no matter what is shown: exploded bodies laying on the ground or wasted children. It is also about trivializing violence, and because falling into excess can cause harm, it is in our best interest to be more careful about this trivialization because it gives the events a misleading twist.

Last week a friend called me, she is a reporter and she shared with me her frustration and grievance about how hard it is for her to publish her articles about the Middle East and keep standards high because she has to write everyday about everything that is happening. And a lot happens there so she doesn’t have the time to explain the often intertwined causes and to do her job properly as she is supposed to as a journalist. News are now consumer goods with an expiration date. Only shocking events find a place in our collective (short?) memory so I can see a pervert effect: the use of mass media to publicize ideologies (of any kind) or to get instant -and transient- fame in a more superficial approach. My turn to be light-hearted, I concede. So to bring awareness or in a way to attract a wider audience, people and organizations have to use mass media to communicate and they often decide to reach out for celebrity support to catch attention (I mention it in Tall oaks from little acorns grow) but the concept works both ways and it comes as no surprise any media can be misused and even manipulated sometimes.

Mass media is a double-edged communication tool and it is hard to sort through all the information coming in, even for the sharp-minded. We have great journalists, experts and people of good will but we, as citizens of the world, have to be aware and curious about the world that surrounds us. Even if the facts are not in the news anymore, even if there are so many issues we think we can’t do anything. Maybe we won’t solve all the problems but at least we could better identify the root causes of problems or events and find more effective solutions with a better understanding of the ins and outs. Because we can’t simplify a given situation the same way we leave out parameters to simplify the form of an equation in mathematics, like I said in Darfur: a World Wide Role Playing Game.

Consider things as a whole and take all the information into account may seem a long and tedious road but in the end, it is the best way to get integrity, impartiality and objectivity in the treatment of the information. And it finally simplifies what looked complicated at first sight. I know it is easier said than done and if I don’t have the time to always do it, at least I humbly try to.

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