By Aditi Udayabhaskar
Christmas is a time for family, friends and lots of love. We often take our cushy, warm homes for granted during the festive season, but seldom do we spare a moment to consider those less fortunate than us – why would we, anyway? After all, the media is so very selective in the content it showcases. We are privy only to a curated part of the world’s events, but should it necessarily be that way?
Have you noticed how certain events are far more heavily publicised than others? Take, for instance, the hurricanes in the US these past few months. The world and his wife know about Hurricane Irma; how it traumatised families and people who had to evacuate their homes in Florida owing to the devastating gusts of wind and torrential rain. 6.2 million homes were without power in Florida alone, with flash-flood warnings given to residents of Jacksonville. It is curious that most of our awareness surrounding Irma is related to Florida – the same storm hit the Caribbean Islands as well, but not many news outlets focused on that. Irma hit Barbuda, St Barts, St Martin and Anguilla before it reached Florida. The impact was particularly harsh in the Dominican Republic, with over 20,000 homes evacuated and two thousand more affected by flooding.
There were riveting images of homelessness and distress from the island, but only if you were reading ‘niche’ newspapers. So why was it that the vast majority remained blissfully unaware of the tragedies just south of America, but manically updated on happenings in Florida?
Here’s another one. You must have heard about the Dreamer’s Act – yes, the same one President Trump wants to repeal, throwing many tens of thousands of young immigrants’ lives into danger and uncertainty. As recent as this week, there are appeals and petitions to stop the rescindment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act: college presidents at universities across the US, politicians, and even the Dreamers themselves have petitioned for change, and there is much buzz surrounding how Trump will handle the outpouring of sentiment going forward.
But the rejection of young immigrants isn’t something isolated to the Land of Opportunity alone – it’s happening elsewhere as well. Sadly, we don’t hear about it too much.
The Rohingya. Who are they? Why do they matter? These are some of the questions Al Jazeera tried to address in their Who Are The Rohingya? article, simply because there wasn’t enough awareness amongst the general readership to be able to present an article without its context being understood first. To provide a brief but succinct introduction, the Rohingya are labourers originally from India and Bangladesh who migrated to Myanmar in the 1800s during the British Rule of the Indian subcontinent. As the entire geography was largely under the Raj, this migration was deemed internal. The Rohingya were Muslim and travelled to Myanmar in search of work – the problems began after independence from the British, when ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya (or the Rakhine, as they call themselves) were to be granted citizenship of the country they were residing in. Myanmar considered the Rohingya to be ‘illegal’, as they had migrated under the British rule and thus were unrecognised by the newly formed government. They were therefore rendered stateless, and so they have remained since 1982.
They continued to live in camps and slum villages in Myanmar with no other choice left to them, and the grim circumstances and desperate attempts by society to extricate the Rohingya from their country gave rise to the mass migration we are now seeing, from Myanmar all the way to Bangladesh and India, where their ancestors were originally from.
This humanitarian nightmare has been deemed the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, with the Rohingya as the “most persecuted ethnic minority in the world”. Yet, it comes as a surprise to many that such a crisis even exists,.
If it is given attention in the media, it is often misunderstood as ‘just another news story’, thus perpetuating the premise that the Rohingyas are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. This crisis isn’t just a story of hardship, human survival and migration – it also mirrors our empathy for the world and its people. Why is it that the press cares so much for some, and so little for the rest? Is there some invisible smokescreen in the offices of media moguls, who decide what events the world should see and read about? Are certain people worth more than others? Do we, as normal citizens, play any role in this behaviour of the media?
We are all guilty of it. How many of us changed our Profile Pictures to some filter of red, blue and white after the horrific Paris attacks in 2015? Most of us did. Some chose a black background to show their solidarity, whilst others took to social media to post statuses and tweets about how they felt, and that they would #PrayForParis. How many of us changed our Profile Pictures to filters of red, white and black to pray for the victims of the terrible bombings in Syria? Forget showing solidarity, most of us didn’t even know it had happened.
The Assad regime in Syria and the might of ISIL in the Middle East & the Levant have made their way to our television screens time and again, but this usually only happens when there are too many boats overturning in the Mediterranean; Russian or American fighter jets attacking ISIL; or during the cold-blooded murders of journalists kidnapped by the terrorist group. Barring these three situations, when have we seen the media present coverage of what was happening to the inhabitants of the region? Granted, we can find a few gems in the form of documentaries or an in-depth analysis of the situation on BBC Panorama or something similar, but is it asking too much for the media to focus on human impact rather than aimlessly running after sensationalism?
Let’s admit it: we are biased. The human race is not perfect. We have our flaws, we prefer some people over others, and our DNA is programmed to not give this harsh reality too much thought – after all, it’s human nature! The reason the media portrays the tragedies of Florida more than it does that of the Caribbean is simply because we couldn’t care less what happens in the sunny island paradise. We do not talk about the Syrian bombings and loss of life because for some reason, our definition of terrorism changes depending on the geographic location it takes place in. We neglect the migration crisis of the Rohingya because it isn’t sensational enough.
To fully understand the nature of this problem, we must ask some tough questions. To make matters worse, we must be honest. Does the media value some cultures more than the rest? Does the audience place a higher value on loss of life in developed countries like France & Britain as opposed to developing and so-called ‘third world countries’? Is the media so blinded by the fact that America is the world’s only superpower, that we concentrate our all on the DACA repeal instead of realising that migration is, in fact, a global issue? Does the fact that the Rohingya come from extremely disadvantaged, poor and basic backgrounds justify their banishment from our newspapers and television screens? Is empathy, kindness and recognition of hardship an expression reserved only for those who are like us? Is this what media reporting has become – shallow, selective and empty?
It is difficult to find a concise answer to the slew of questions presented above. It isn’t entirely our fault that we are ensnared in the trap of modern media tactics. It’s basic human psychology; the media gives us what they think we want. And this is where we hold the greatest amount of power. With repeated website clicks and newspapers selling faster than hotcakes with their tried-and-tested sensational headlines, the media knows what it takes to make their papers tick.
The question is, however – are we only really interested in deliberately curated pieces of news? Or do we want to know what’s really going on out there?
The media is not only guilty of skipping some stories entirely – it twists existing ones as well. The deception, if we can call it that, is more a delicate game of balance and a calculated decision to keep events that have the potential to snowball into something larger under wraps. Is it because the media is in cahoots with major influencers, or do news outlets have an unspoken code of things they simply don’t write about? We’ll never know. The lack of emphasis on such issues is concerning, however – take for instance the introduction of the Universal Basic Income (UBI) in a small part of Finland, where it’s doing wonders for citizens who are unemployed but using the money to keep themselves productive and determined in their search to secure a job. The success of this scheme may have profound implications on the future of mankind, particularly given the projections that AI will have taken up a majority of human work, leaving our race in a labour conundrum. Despite this reality, newspapers have cleverly kept it out of our daily dose of current affairs. When it comes to things political, readers are almost always misinformed on the true goings-on.
This could not be better illustrated than with the developments in North Korea, which as many know, is embroiled in a nuclear missile controversy with the US. However, what we aren’t told is the details of whether nuclear war is a real possibility, and the tone is usually vague and ambiguous at best – uncharacteristic, especially for outlets that love nothing more than a jaw-dropping, specific headline on their front page! A similar response could be observed during the ‘secret meeting’ Theresa May allegedly had with EU officials at short notice, and whilst the media hinted at the possibility of such an exchange having taken place, no confirmations (nor denials) were subsequently made; it was hushed up as quickly as it was published. There are mysterious games being played by the media, and as readers, we ought to be cognizant of being intentionally misled. Nonetheless, is there anything we, who crave good journalism, can do to save ourselves from this unending spiral of contradictory and biased media coverage?
As it happens, we can. Consume the news that matters by curating it yourself. It’s easier than you think. By giving yourself the power of deciding what and how you read, the notion of falling for sensationalism, bias and prejudiced journalism is lesser than imagined. Taking the active approach of ‘liking’ or following alternative news outlets on your favourite social media website could be a start. For every story covered by CNN, there’s an RT to rival them. As BBC offers their interpretation of an event, how about looking at what Deutsche Welle has to say?
Moreover, apps like Flipboard exist to do just that – a personalised magazine of curated stories that interest you, from sources all over the web, including personal blogs and independent writers.
Yes, it’s still curated, but at least in a manner that you are consciously aware of, and from sources beyond your run-of-the-mill news outlets. This is a great way to connect with the real events of the world, and whilst some might consider this niche, it’s way better than choosing to remain unenlightened in this age of technology and connectivity.
It might seem trivial, but it matters. Journalism is all about questioning the status-quo, and encouraging the reader to explore the world and its affairs themselves – to deny a reader that right is to do injustice to very premise of journalism. They say Christmas is all about the joy of giving, don’t they? Well, I have a present for you. This Christmas, gift yourself the choice of perspective – it might just change your entire outlook on life. Together, we can be the catalyst to a much-needed change in the way the media selects and reports their stories – and maybe, just maybe, the media’s forgotten stories will not remain forgotten for long.