Today, news circulates in an instant. Our daily lives are constantly bombarded with scores of information from every direction and from equally innumerable sources. In such a world, can the fourth estate, successfully prevent the occurrence of disinformation, and faithfully serve its purpose of informing the citizens of what’s happening in the society?
Hyper-reality: the Child of Yellow Journalism
Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan said, “All media exists to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values”. This statement might be decades old but continues to hold weight today. Media is a means where the news and information are transferred to the audience. It claims to be a representation of reality and is known as an agency of public knowledge. The mediums such as newspaper, magazine, television, radio, and internet condition our access to the world and saturate our views about the world. However, the news is released only after strategic selection and systematic arrangements, thereby altering reality. Media today is flooded with information. Most audiences accept and believe the content so generated as the ultimate truth. French philosopher and culture theorist Jean Baudrillard, in his theory of simulation, explains that media is not a representation of reality but rather an occurrence of something real which has no origin or reality. He calls it a “hyperreality”.
Media claims to be independent of any government bodies and institutions. The level of its “independence” becomes clear when we see journalists and writers being threatened and even murdered. The big media outlets are owned by few corporates of the western countries. Every day tons of information is thrust into our system, which appears to be a simulation of what they want us to know and believe.
Do you ever feel if all of it is the construction of an illusion of reality for us? We are told about who are the heroes and the villains. Malcolm X said, “The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power! They control the minds of the masses”. In connection to this, we are made to believe that the American or the western military are the heroes, and, doubtless, the terrorist groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and others are a threat to the whole world. But do we ever question the reason behind the formation of such radical groups? What compelled them to take such extreme steps?
When the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001 by Osama Bin Laden and his followers, the world sympathized with the Americans for their loss. The 9/11 attack was magnified, repeated on all the news channels, newspapers, and magazines. The photograph of the two tallest buildings crumbling down amidst smoke and fire is imprinted in everyone’s minds.
Didn’t America finance Al-Qaeda in the 1990s to overthrow Sadam Hussein? And what about the destruction in Iraq, Syria, and other Middle-East countries caused by the heroes? Their lands are destroyed, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians killed, millions of people and children are displaced from their homes and became refugees because of continuous war, conflict, and threat. Did the world come together to support them during such crisis?
When Paris was attacked by terrorists in 2015, the world mourned and prayed for the Parisians. They sympathized with them, they lit candles for the lost souls, they illuminated significant buildings with the flag of France, Facebook users created their temporary profile pictures featuring the French flag. This much was done because people were informed that the good people were attacked by the villains, and they must fight against the evil. But what happened when the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) was dropped on Afghanistan in April 2017? Did the world light candles to remember the lost lives? Of course not! Because we were informed that 36 ISIS fighters had been killed; the villains, not civilians. And we are informed it’s for a good cause! The President of America, Donald Trump, pronounced the mission as a “successful event”, and that he was proud of his military troops- “the greatest military in the world”. So their use of the biggest bomb against humanity was justified.
It is also learnt that the ISIS used war tanks and other weapons which were left behind by the western militariy after the war. Why did they leave these weapons? It is obvious ‘heroes’ won’t leave the weapons for the ‘villains’ purposely. Period.
Murder is murder, whether it is done brutally or subtly. We should not be biased to the sufferings of the people regardless of what media portrays. The objective here is not to discredit the news in the media, but to be judicious when reading or listening before formulating opinions and drawing conclusions. We are all at some point in our lives susceptible to becoming the victims of media and its simulation. But it is our duty to see the story from both sides indifferently, instead of simply accepting and agreeing with everything we hear or read around us.
In order to get the attention of the audience and also market their news, media outlets, particularly those in the entertainment industry, manufacture sensation. The lives of the rich and famous are always updated and exalted, though the information about them will not be productive to the public. They also exaggerate minor events creating unnecessary commotion and fear among the people, thus omitting important news. The present on-going conflicts and cold wars might be more perilous than the reported news. “Newspapers (media) are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization”, once said writer George Bernard Shaw.
The important thing is that we should not lose our opinion and perspective to information and propaganda that may sometimes be disguised as truth and facts, as Malcolm X stated, “If you are not careful, the newspapers (media) will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”. While we cannot do without media and journalism for information, let us also be sensible and prudent as to whom or what we allow to control our perspective, our reality, and truth.