Failure of the popular media

Photo from Al Jazeera

According to the United Nations, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is currently going on in Yemen, at the southern end of the Arabian peninsula. The civil war that is raging in the country has resulted in 22 million people — three-quarters of the population — in desperate need of humanitarian aid. 18 million of those people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s equivalent to every single person in London and New York, suddenly without the prospect of an upcoming meal.

Head north-west a couple of thousand kilometres to war-torn Syria. Here, the number of people in desperation amounts to 13 million, over two-thirds of their population. Almost 6 million people are fleeing the endless bombs, some of which contain illegal, devastating nerve agents, choking their victims to death in the most appalling way imaginable.

Make your way south-west until you reach South Sudan, and you’ll hear news of 2.5 million people being forced to desert their homes, in pursuit of a place where they won’t be mercilessly gunned down by rebel soldiers.

There’s a good chance that you don’t know much about these conflicts. In a bid to chase readership and ratings, the popular media prefers to cover more jovial, loveable stories such as George Clooney being named as the royal baby’s godparent. Apparently, a royal baby is more important than thousands of dead ones in the Middle East. The argument is that the popular media are just giving the people what they want. But are we more interested in entertaining topics because that’s what the media promotes? Or would we be willing to spend time learning about humanitarian disasters, if clearly presented with them? This is not to say that the media should forgo all entertainment and torment us with constant death and misery, but they have to make some kind of effort to cover such critical stories, and to position them at the forefront of their mediums, not in some out-of-focus dark corner where nobody ventures. In addition to this, good, hard-working journalists are required instead of bottom-feeding hacks, in order to capture our attention more effectively.

Our own responsibilities are to actively seek out these kinds of stories, and ignore the mind-numbing fluff that jumps up and down for our attention. Spend some time browsing the world category on your favourite news sites, making sure that the sources themselves are considered credible. The BBC, Guardian and Al Jazeera are three excellent examples. The often-buried issues that you’re pursuing are of paramount importance, and unless we know about them, there’s nothing we can do to help. The cynics among you might be screaming: “but we can’t do anything to help!” But this simply isn’t true — change can only start with us, the people. Just look to Martin Luther King or Gandhi for inspiration.

While Facebook is clearly a vapid, soul-sucking creation, it’s still the most popular social network on the planet, and can be used to illuminate crucial topics which usually find themselves in the nether regions of popular media. You might be surprised at how much interest people take in such stories. We’re not as cold-hearted as you think.

Until the day that our souls are merged with the cloud, we retain the ability to converse with people face-to-face — another effective method for spreading important news. Chat to your friends about it over an alcoholic beverage; get on your high-horse and protest against the awful injustice of it all.

On the topic of protests, if you really wanted to get involved, you could join one. You might even start one, and invite a few local news crews in the hope that they’ll actually cover the event. Just try not to smash anything up, because that isn’t fitting for a polite citizen such as yourself.

Finally, reach into those deep pockets of yours, and offer a portion of the contents to a deserving charity. The UN Refugee Agency is a good candidate.

When you’re casually browsing through your media of choice, remember that the most important news on the planet isn’t going to be easy to find. A little poking and digging is required to discover the good stuff. And while much of what you read will be depressing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. In fact, that makes it all the more important to read, because upsetting news usually covers that which requires the most immediate change, and change can only start with us.


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Originally published at antidotesforchimps.com on November 29, 2018.