Thursday, August 18, 2005

12 Laws of Media Matrix

There is a qualitative difference between reading and watching the news. For most of us, watching the news on TV is far more efficient and less-time consuming. But images and voice are incessant and transient, and unlike when we read a newspaper, there is no time to reflect on and mentally critique the information we are getting exposed to.

Thus, without realising, we get influenced by images and messages at very subliminal levels of our consciousness.

These subtle influences mould our sensitivity, awareness and attitudes towards the world around us, specially when media reports news about wars, violence and conflicts (which is a staple menu of mainstream news these days). These messages reach us, and embed in our psyche, in the way the words are used to describe images, e.g., when events/people are described as "horror", "cruel", "devastated", "defenseless", "innocent", "brutal", "systematic", "genocide", etc.

The following 12 points, described by Norwegian peace studies professor Johann Galtung, about where journalism goes wrong in reporting violence are quite insightful:

l. Decontextualizing violence: Media often focuses on the irrational acts of violence, without exploring the reasons for unresolved conflicts and polarization.

2. Dualism: Media often reduces and portrays the number of parties in a conflict to two, when actually more are involved. Stories that just focus on internal developments often ignore such outside or "external" forces as foreign governments and transnational companies.

3. Manicheanism: Inadvertently media portrays one side as good while demonizes the other as "evil."

4. Armageddon: presenting violence as inevitable, omitting alternatives.

5. Focusing on individual acts of violence while avoiding structural causes, like poverty, government neglect, and military or police repression.

6. Confusion: focusing only on the conflict arena (i.e., the battlefield or location of violent incidents) but not on the forces and factors that influence the violence.

7. Excluding and omitting the bereaved, thus never explaining why there are acts of revenge and spirals of violence.

8. Failure to explore the causes of escalation and the impact of media coverage itself.

9. Failure to explore the goals of outside interventionists, especially big powers.

l0. Failure to explore peace proposals and offer images of peaceful outcomes.

11. Confusing cease-fires and negotiations with actual peace.

12. Omitting reconciliation: conflicts tend to reemerge if attention is not paid to efforts to heal fractured societies. When news about attempts to resolve conflicts are absent, fatalism is reinforced. That can help engender even more violence, when people have no images or information about possible peaceful outcomes and the promise of healing.



Anshul said...

Interesting analysis. I think these "failures" of journalism are inevitable given the characteristic of the average person watching the news: a short attention span. It took me about ten minutes to read your post, for example. Thats half the evening news, given the advertising times these days.

The other thing that causes these failures are market pressures - the pressure to (a) report things quick and (b) sensationalize them - both to gain advantage in the relatively cramped TV media market. If a journalist has to report quickly s/he doesn't have time to analyze the situation as would desire. And sensationalization causes at least half the failures that are cited.

If you want good journalism, there are documentaries that cover these issues - maybe on the History Channel. Does anybody watch them? Who's to blame - the media or the audience?

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