The toxic role of the media

The toxic role of the media

There are bombs in Sri Lanka, there is a threat on Iran, there was a disaster in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia, there is an imminent Tsunami on the Phillipines, and Ukraine just got a new president who was a comedian.
That is the gist of the news, covering vast topics of varying degrees of seriousness, all with effect on the running of the world and the understanding of the human race’s advance towards some point of progress.
At the centre of all the occurrences is the media. Sharing information, educating, entertaining, but always with the main issue in sight, media spreads the message for the interpretation by the masses that come to view it. In an age when the letter and the postman were the main mediums used in the spreading of the messages, people still could get a grip on the events in the slowly revolving world of days past. Come radio and television, they could at least get news on the day they occurred.

The Internet brought a whole new level to the transfer of news from one spot to the next, the only obvious threat being the makers of ‘false’ news. As the speed of transfer has increased, so has the number of opinionated individuals with access to resources that enable their opinions to be heard no matter the essence of the messages they spread.
One has always viewed the process of making news as a delicate affair, demanding that the reporter, journalist, and columnist be unbiased in their view: to always get the two opposing sides of the story before daring to type the story.
This means that the unbiased nature of the news personnel stems from him or her being alienated from that which they are writing about, that they should have no interest whatsoever in the story. The only purpose they should have is to spread the message for the benefit of the public and nothing else. The writer who gets attached to the topic under discussion stands to err by addressing the matter according to their interest and not according to the logistics of the story.

It is this type of bad reporting that one comes across on a daily basis on different media platforms where a report is treated as an opinion piece by the author thereof. With the advance in technology rose the tendency amongst the writing ranks to be seen as the ‘discoverer’ of a salient piece of news.
This normally goes in tandem with the certain individual demanding to be glorified, to be put on a pedestal and to have awards showered on them. The media often oblige, giving out awards without realising that they are encouraging the culture of false news in the process.
Every ordinary man and woman wants their two seconds on live television, even if it is for some fickle affair that impacts no one else but the speaker or writer.
It was on March 3 in 1991 when George Holliday took the first ‘viral’ video of an unarmed black man being brutally assaulted by several police officers. The videotaping of Rodney King’s assault was a prime example of what is termed as ‘citizen journalism’ where Holliday could only watch through the eyepiece as officers beat Rodney for more than eight minutes as he lay on the ground. The only question he thought to himself was: “what did that guy do to deserve that?”

The question is just one side of the tale, the primary point of enquiry after the fact (the savage beating) had been recorded live on videotape. That the police had chased Rodney King for some while is the other side to the tale and only comes into the foray much later (at the trial where the officers were declared ‘not guilty’ by a mostly white jury).
That the videotape would spark the worst race riots in Los Angeles and go on to become a symbol of police brutality close to three decades ago was not the journalist’s (Holliday’s) fault. In his reply he states:
People have blamed me for the disturbances. What is on the tape caused them, not the tape itself.
With a volatile piece of news in his videotape, Holliday did what every upright citizen would do, go to the police and find out if there had been any operations in the area, he got no information. He only got answers at KTLA (a local television station) who then played it on their 10pm news programme.
The TV station told him the tape was a bigger story than they had thought and so held on to it for $500. The police would later come and confiscate the tape, for reasons obvious: it was an incriminating piece of evidence working against them.

This is the process of news-making, the reporter records what is going on and spreads the message after establishing connections between the parties involved in the story and the possible impacts on society as a whole. George Holliday could not sit back like a bad citizen and allow the culture of rogue cops go on unchecked, at some point, someone had to present visual evidence of rampant police brutality.
Officers are meant or designed to be guardians of society’s welfare, and erroneously assuming that being the guardian means being at the top of the food chain or hierarchy, some officers easily become prey to rogue tendencies.
The media is often referred to as just that ‘media’ and in these days when the smart phone has taken over the role of the heavier video camera, false/fake news cover more pages than real news.
This has opened the media to attacks by parties that feel they are threatened by the presence of the media in society. It is not uncommon for one to hear some figure exposed on charges of corruption take an open swipe at the media unchecked, often hinging towards uncontrolled social media than the real media houses that play a monitoring role on the changing trends in societal issues.

The blurring of the lines brought by the advances in technology is what renders the true role of media unclear to the general citizenry. The young man taking videos of neighbours in private moments is not a news person but a mere voyeur and Peeping Tom.
This does not apply in the case of a citizen being maltreated by authorities whose statutes of operation actually deem such authorities servants to the citizen.
Advance in technology has somehow eroded that salient aspect found in human relations: self-respect and respect for others. It is with utter dismay that one sees individuals take harrowing pictures and videos from accident scenes instead of helping the injured to get the needed medical attention. Even such uncouth tendencies are referred to under the umbrella of media, though they lack the professionalism that is definitive of media practice.
A recent watch of a popular talk-show programme revealed how bad the departure from the true purpose of news-making has become. The host was addressing the issue #menaretrash, a very caustic topic that despite being the favourite of feminist groups largely infringes on the rights of black men in post-independent Southern African societies.

The female host (for calling her ‘hostess’ would be considered an infringement of basic human rights), was openly on the side of black women blaming black men for their current state of being. Abused, raped, battered to a pulp, denied of the right to equality, the black women in these societies always point to their immediate male members of their societies as the root cause to their problems.
I thought the discussion should have focused first on the history of the black people before addressing the symptoms that are increasingly becoming virulent. A gentleman (one of the speakers on the panel of experts) that sought to address the issue of history was brashly shut down by the host, the main accusation being that he should not like other males use history as the scapegoat. Perplexed in utter terms, all one could ask themselves was: should this kind of platform be granted a place on national television? I hold the basic notion that logical sense makes one aware of a simple fact: one should question the source before they try and treat the symptoms.
It is a fact that history was not fair to all sides of society in Southern Africa, whether black or white. Apartheid policy made it worse for the black majority, and trying to place the black man as the root to all black woman’s problems is in plain terms unfounded and hypocritical.

We suffered the same heinous conditions under the same yoke of racist segregation policies of apartheid. Whoever tries to present one side as having suffered more is actually trying to serve some other interest than the interests of the masses at large.
Media personalities should be made aware that their voices and opinions reach a far wider audience than some of the personalities they interview on their shows or sections. This means that they should be instructed to observe caution when it comes to dealing with issues that in actual fact have not been given appropriate platforms for their discussions.

The issue of women’s or men’s rights has always been treated as a background issue despite its obvious impact in the foreground of human society. Feminist and sexist opinions are always given too much room in the media without the actual questioning of the issues that led to some of the more prominent symptoms of social decay festering as they do.
The media is there to present the facts and not to accuse anyone of anything; it merely puts the fact on the right platform for it to be questioned by the general public for the benefit of the entire society. Had it not been that there were cases of corruption exposed by journalists, reporters and news researchers over the years, the world would not be what it is at the moment.

Without anyone playing the all-seeing eye the journalist, reporter, columnist, talk-show host, or upright citizen plays, some of the malpractices and horrendous deeds of corruption would have gone on unchecked.
The type of media that spices the fact before its presentation to the general public is prone to presenting warped news. News should be presented without fear of reprisal from the parties involved in their making.
The writer of the news should ensure that they do not become involved in the presentation of the fact, whether emotionally or otherwise, for then the piece of news becomes a conflicted affair.
Presence of vested interested on the part of the journalist or reporter means that the piece of news loses its essence, for then it cannot be discussed without favour or bias as a topic of interest to the writer.
All the poverty statistics, the unemployment percentages, the crime rates, cases of corruption and other social maladies cannot be viewed objectively if society is to be panned with a media whose interests are in serving a particular section of society or a given political affiliation.

There has always been the need to have an instrument of monitoring in any given state. This means that such an instrument of monitoring would have to be free from the clutches of state control, for then it would mean that the state could shut and open it at will.
In the types of democratic societies in which we live, it means that the media plays the role of the voice of the masses who are governed over, serving in its rightful role as the informant, the educator, and the entertainer of the people.
Could be that the media is often misinterpreted due to lack of the understanding of its role, or that it is run by untrained individuals that actually lack in terms of the appropriate dissemination of information. Information is the constant stream which keeps the media running, but it is a stream which should be kept free from the dross that comes with unreliable sources, unverifiable informants, misinformers, and unfounded opinion.
It is a reality that information is what keeps the world revolving, but then such information should be kept as clean as possible for the masses to reach the right decisions on the basis thereof.

The journalist, the reporter, the columnist and the researcher must all understand that their role is merely to pass the information on; ‘merely’ to denote the simplicity of the position and the value of the role.
The writer’s main objective should not be to become a celebrity but to give accurate pieces of information for the purpose of making society a better place to live.
It is this quest for stardom that has tainted the name of the media to the current point, in short, the quest for glory in actual fact makes one prone to writing pieces of news that besmirch the image of media as an entity that is salient to the harmonious running of society: a guardian of the facts as they unfold.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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