I have watched the latest press coverage of the Haitian earthquake with some irritation at the sheer lack of responsibility with which our modern press portray national emergencies. In writing this post I do not in any way want to take anything away from the pain and suffering of the Haitian people, nor the impact of what they have had to endure and go through since the disaster struck their homeland just a few short days ago. To them my condolences and respect I give gladly. I do however want to put a bit of perspective into our minds of this world that we live in and the irresponsibility of the international media in focusing our attention at things they feel or deem important enough to make the new, and corrupt our minds into forgetting what we cannot or no longer see.
My feeling of discontent at the direction of the British press core in Haiti had been felt from the start, when almost immediately they began to look for blame at the lack of support from the international community at reacting to this disaster. With all the good will in the world, there are logistical and monetary issues that face the entire world at this moment in time that would mean any response would have been met by this problem. I am struck at this time at the audacity of the British press in demanding that the USA do more and look to blame them for security issues on the ground that make distribution of AID a headache for everyone, not least the US.
What disturbs me the most is that while we appreciate that the US and Europe, and much of the world have been gripped in the worst economic disaster for the last twenty four months, that it is once more to the Western world, namely the US and Europe that the victims of this disaster look too for their salvation. Why I ask myself are the British media not asking why more has not been done by the Asian community, whom have we are told, completely avoided the economic crisis that has befallen most of the modern world. Surely in a time such as this it is into their pockets that they should be dipping, and surely in a time like this their military might could have been swung into action and flown in just as easily as US troops.
Ok, fair enough, distance might prose its own practical issues to this argument, however I am sorry but I am sick and tired of hearing people blame the US and the West for its lack of support and delay at getting help in. Since as far back as the great earthquake that levelled the centre of Mexico City, I have heard disaster appeal after disaster appeal go out to the giving and generous people of Great Britain, and every time they have risen up and met the call. Billions of pounds of money has been risen over time for all manner of disaster appeals. In the same way I have never seen America fail to step up to the plate and deliver, even when it cannot really afford to itself, it has never let the greater world down.
Whenever it is a disaster around the world, it is always the same people and countries that time after time reach out and touch the lives of those who have been dealt a devastating blow. Be it the earth quakes in Pakistan, China, India, Indonesia, Iran and many others around the world, or the Boxing day Tsunami, or the famines of Africa, Hurricanes of the Gulf of Mexico, to almost any kind of human suffering, the press make a good job of showing us the vivid impacts of these disasters, emoting us into action, and demanding reaction and support from the same corner every single time. Never before have I heard the press condemn the Chinese or the Russians for the lack of support or assistance.
I have to ask myself as the seats of power swing in other directions as things change in our world today, if things shouldn’t be slightly different. I cannot help but feel that if AID workers had been rushed into the field in Haiti and violence had broken out resulting in the deaths of AID workers, that the press would have been the first to ask why security had not been organised, and press long and hard for heads to roll to satisfy their ill placed passion with pointing a figure and finding blame.
The main reason that I write this evening is that in my own opinion, I feel that the press themselves are the root cause of much of the blame for inciting and creating a news that they feel is sensational and worthy of hitting our screens. I firmly believe that the press go out specifically looking for stories that they are able to twist and manipulate into witch hunts of blame and fault and hatred. Imagine a reporter stood before you, well clothed, well educated, healthy and well fed, at a time when you have lost family and loved ones, at a time when hunger is a pressing issue on your mind as your stomach gnaws within you. Imagine if you can a man who seems to be in charge at a time you feel the world around you is falling at your feet, presenting you with a question like, “Do you feel that the USA should do more to help you?” What do you really think your answer would be?
This evening as I sat watching the ITV evening news, the straw on the camel’s back finally broke for me. I sat and watched as the news teams jumped on a story of the thousands of children caught up in the confusion of Haiti, rushing to sensationalise how it was children now who were starving and suffering the worst as AID failed to reach Haiti. I was angered and sickened at this gross display of pure irresponsibility on the part of the reporters. I was saddened to think that for one moment in time, the suffering of every child anywhere else in the world meant nothing as these reporters could manipulate and emote its watchers to the plight of the children of Haiti.
It is not that I do not feel for those children, but I was sickened to my stomach as I thought to myself, that in a day, week or month, when they have totally thrashed and exhausted everything that they can out of the Haitian disaster that those children that today were so credible as a news story will be forgotten about, and left to fend for themselves just as much then as they are now, while the spot light falls on them in the aftermath of this disaster. Yes I was angered at the way that our so called perfect press would stoop so low as to use children’s suffering to make its news worthy for our screens tonight, when in a year or two’s time, when the AID given now dries up and the world is focused on the next big news story, those very children that the press were so willing to sensationalise tonight will be forgotten about and left to a life of misery and pain.
Could it be so true in this day and age that our press could be so corrupt and work with such scant regard for human life and suffering? Please, wake up. This is 2010. Think if you will of the orphans of Eastern Europe where children have systematically been abused, abandoned and brought up in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. Children who were gagged to stop them from crying, children who were left without clothing for months. Children who were starved and abandoned because they had birth defects, or were slow or stupid as the institutions of the Soviet state believed. Orphanages in the Ukraine where if you had enough money you could go and buy time with any child you liked. In their time, they were an adequate news story to shock and sensationalise the news we were watching, but today, the British press couldn’t give a damn about the conditions which according to any number of agencies that are working with organisations based in Eastern Europe are just as bad if not worse in some places.
Then there are those who’ve been orphaned by war. Huge blocks of children brought up by the state in places in Europe where the press dare not tread for fear of being beaten like the thugs they are. Chechnya and the Balkans, Rwanda and Brunei, Congo and Uganda. In these places millions of children have been completely left to their own devices. In many of the African conflicts children fell into war lords clutches and we fashioned into armies of little value, put on the front line to be slaughtered till the enemy ran out of ammunition and the elite forces of the war lord could then sweep in an annihilate their enemy. Are we as a society so dull as to imagine that the moment that the press stopped telling us these stories that the problems went away? Visit Africa today. Take a walk around in Darfur right now and look at how many of the rebel soldiers carrying AK47’s are kids of 13 and 14 years of age, high on marijuana to keep them controllable, and ever ready to die for their precious leader who cares not for anything but his position in power and maintaining it behind his army of children for as long as he can.
Could we believe that those children that were shown to us just last year as the Burmese cyclone wiped out half a nation as unprecedented flooding brought the country to its knees? I recall then how loudly the press shouted about the lack of AID given, despite the military junta’s refusal to allow the AID in. But in the press’s eyes, it was far more sensational to blame the international world for the failure, and show the suffering of the people, children, men and woman alike, while they painted a vivid picture about how inept the leaders of the world were at putting pressure on the government of Burma to allow the AID in. Do any of us pretend now that since our esteemed press core choose no longer to tell us of their suffering that the people of Burma have it any easier? The truth is that the military Junta kept the aid that was allowed into the country for itself, and the people continue to suffer as they struggle to rebuild a life shattered in the waters of that cyclone. But that wouldn’t be a very exciting story, and report it as they might, it would not change the status quo, nor make any difference to the people on the ground, so they are left to suffer, as sensationalising that story and emoting us would be futile and worthless, and so the story is now not news worthy.
For far too long the media have reported with scant regard to the effect of such sensationalism in the press. Let us take for example a few years ago right here in Wales. An area close to where I live became known as Lynch Rope Central or Suicide Alley, as a growing number of teenagers fought to get their name on the headline news through acts of suicide. For a bunch of teenagers it became cool and hip to get your name and story on the news, and have everyone talking about how wonderful you were and for a moment in time your name was a celebrity as the media pounced on the news of “WOW, yet ANOTHER suicide victim in Bridgend and the number of teenage suicides goes up in the town! Police are baffled as they fail to find any link!”
The link was you, you idiots! The very press who didn’t even consider for one moment that your actions were the root cause and reason for such an sudden growth in teenage deaths. Right up to the end the press fought a vicious and costly campaign to maintain that they were whiter than white and had a right to report the news. It eventually took a direct order and “agreement” from the press to stop reporting on teenage suicides in the town, before the war was won, and what happened? The moment that kids realised that their stupidity wasn’t going to get them on the national news, none of their mates were going to get interviewed, no one would talk about how wonderful they were, it stopped. And so it was that the mighty body of the press right here in deepest darkest Wales were taught a lesson. That their lack of foresight and sensationalism of one simple act of stupidity on behalf of one teenager who now lies in a box, six feet under, and whose name is probably forgotten by the very reporter that sensationalised his death, started a trend that took over twenty lives before it was forcibly stopped. This is the wreckless disregard for their reporting standards that I talk about when I say that the press don’t care. Today’s suffering doesn’t simply disappear because you stop talking about it, and reporting in this way is callous and wrong.
I am Zimbabwean, and a passionate one as anyone who knows me would agree, and so as I watched the television last night, and saw them walking among the orphans of Haiti, I was angered. Perhaps in reality my anger towards the failure of the press core has a lot to do with the situation in Zimbabwe. You see, Zimbabwe has to daily deal with over 2.1 million orphans, who have little in the way of assistance to survive. Those agencies on the ground in Zimbabwe are given little in assistance by the world to feed, cloth, educate, provide health and safety to these children. Many live on the streets, fending for themselves. Many are cared for by people who have other uses and ideas in mind for them. Many are abused and mistreated. Most of them have little future if any. Today 1 million Haitian children need our help. So does that mean that 2.1 million Zimbabwean children today are no good to care about? Does that mean that those trying desperately to make a difference for these kids in Zimbabwe, don ‘t need anything today, because your attention is now focused somewhere else where you can sensationalise your story and make the world watch your news coverage? No the reality is that you’ll make your millions out of covering this disaster and forget about the plight of those children just as quickly as you forgot about those in Zimbabwe. You see Mr. Reporter, power lies in your hands. Responsible reporting would be to continually apply pressure, to constantly remind the world and keep those vulnerable and in precious need of help daily in the front line of your reporting. Not just when you need numbers to watch your program or buy your rag.
And it is for this reason that I am sickened when I hear our reporters on a front line trying to make out that nowhere else in the world are their people suffering, because now their story is no longer applicable or exciting to you as a reporter. Such irresponsibility would be subjected to a government being removed from power, or department heads being changed were it a different organisation, and they acted in such a manner. News is news, but exploiting those who befall the news, and making their suffering and hardship the centre of attention of your news for the simple demand of ratings or sales is both disgusting and scandalous. It is high time that reporting became more about the story and less about the visual impact and sensationalism of preying on those unable to protect themselves. I hope in time that our generation become more in tune with people’s feelings and less interested in such diabolical reporting.