Posts Tagged ‘Al Jazeera’

Money has too much control over the mass-media; in fact it has total control. As long as the mass-media makes money through happy advertisers, their content will continue being tailored to a certain audience. If you pick one news-item and follow it through different commentaries the topic-selection, concerns, emphasis, filtering and framing varies depending on the audience and their interests.

The reporting of Iran’s earthquake was very different in Fox News compared to Al Jazeera English. While Al Jazeera kept focus on factual numbers, geography and relief efforts, Fox left us with little information, rather a dramatic story of homeless people and despair.

Update 14.08.2012:

I’ve just discovered by clicking on my own link that Fox News have changed their article. It is impossible to find the article I linked to, it seems like they have rewritten the whole story. Maybe another example of how you can be unprofessional.. The video is still showing the same dramatic story as yesterday though.

We are surrounded by news 24 hours a day and it is impossible to pay attention to all of it. Most of us skim through the highlights and are informed of what goes on in the world, but seldom do we pay enough attention to each story to discover what happens to it in the media. I have, for the last three months, paid very much attention to the KONY2012 issue and how it has been presented in the media. Not only did I follow the issue but I reflected upon concepts related to the media; like manipulation, the public sphere and semiotics. This post is about what I discovered in relation to that.

The media is important to us, it is our public sphere, and it is where we share, receive and discuss information about the world and what concerns us. Unfortunately the media fails in many ways as a public sphere as information gets distorted in a swirl of bias, lies, facts and opinions. There are so many news broadcasters in the world today and they all filter the news to suit a specific audience. By tailoring the news according to their local audiences’ interests, many different views of one case are told to different people.

In the KONY2012 debate this was very clear. The western audiences have a certain interest in economy and power and so the western media reported on money, facts and the intentions of The Invisible Children. On the other hand, media broadcasters with a different target market, like Al Jazeera who wants to be “a voice of the voiceless”, talked about the Ugandan people, justice, empathy and real experiences. It took over a week before these important views were presented to us. My blogpost “Filtered News” goes more in depth on this.

Of course, social media is now also a big part of our public sphere, and here we have an opportunity for a more democratic sphere, but we also face the problem of a greater digital divide.

In addition to this, manipulation is a keyword within mainstream media. The Invisible Children, either if you think it was exploitive or genius, knew who they were targeting and that is why their video was so successful. Given that they planned to release the video online they knew their biggest audience would be teenagers, and this is why they made a video and not a streamed lecture. Other noticeable tactics were the simplifying of a complex issue, starring of young people and children as key-figures. Playing on emotions and empathy was a clear strategy of The Invisible Children.

While I am on the topic of manipulation I want to bring up George Gerbner and his cultivation theory. He argued that the media, in the long-term, lead people to believe the social reality portrayed by the media, also called “the mean world syndrome”. When Jason Russell had his public breakdown, mainstream media decorated their headlines with words like “public masturbation”, “running naked in streets” and “car wrecking” leading everyone to adopt this point of view, hashtages like #BONY2012 was all over Twitter short after. It goes to show how much influence the media can have on us.

Probably the most interesting part of the KONY issue for me was the relevance it had to semiotics. This is a complex concept, but basically it is about the reading of images and how we interpret them differently due to ideologies and experiences of the world. In KONY2012 there was an American organization which told the story of a long and complex issue in Africa to the whole world by the use of videos, pictures and text. Depending on where in the world we are from, we carry different histories and different experiences and therefore we view the world in different ways, our understanding of one story will be very diverse from others. While I saw The Invisible Children as a caring and thoughtful group who wanted to help, the Ugandan people reacted with disgust and felt the Americans were victimizing their race.

When we are dealing with global issues we should take notice of where other people come from and their history to gain a better understanding of their opinions. I think we often take for granted that everyone else should “see what we see”, we very often miss to see the reasons for other peoples actions because of this attitude.

Also other topics like moral panic and causes and effects are helpful when analysing new headlines. Our public sphere has become a complex space of ideas and information, and we must become active listeners to get the information right. News-reading changes with these concepts in mind, and can help us think before we act.

It is funny with the public sphere. It is supposed to be a “space” or “place” where everyone are free to say their opinions and express themselves, somewhere where we all can debate on issues that are of concern to us and make the rest of the world conscious of our concerns. That is the ideal public sphere.

Where is this place? Is there really one such place where everyone is heard? Obviously there is no physical place in the world called the public sphere but our intentional sphere is in the media. Mainstream media are supposed to act as a news channel that listens to the public and share our views with the rest of the world. Is it really the case though? Do the media pick up on everyone’s concerns? Is everyone really being heard? I find that mainstream media fails as a public sphere. Rather than bringing other people’s messages across borders the mainstream media is promoting tailored and nicely packaged world views to us. Instead of informing us, they are teaching us, turning our public sphere into a monologue rather than a dialog.

When The Invisible Children released the KONY2012 video a lot of questions were raised in the world. There were different reactions to the video, its message, its content and the whole world wanted to discuss their concerns. The western media served us a mixed tape of news playing specialists opinions about money, facts and intentions. It took a whole week before they picked up on Al Jazeera’s view about the Ugandan people, empathy and real experiences. So the mainstream media is not doing a good job serving the public sphere, it basically fails to pick up concerns outside the western world.

Luckily, thanks to the internet and social media, we now have an opportunity to shape a new public sphere. By using Twitter, Facebook, blogging and vlogging members of the public sphere can take the responsibility in their own hands and share their concerns with the rest of the world instantly. There are no filters, no gatekeepers, only the voices of the public sphere. I find this sphere much more enlightening and informative. I believe that with social media our voices are stronger and more clear to the rest of the world. There is still a problem in this public sphere though; Digital divides. The picture below is meant to demonstrate the interest in the Kony-issue by region and date, but can it also be a demonstration of the digital divide in the world?

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Not all citizens in the public sphere have digital access, some people lack digital skills and others lack money to access the digital world. We must struggle to find a way to solve this digital divide. I think having a citizenship in the world of social media gives us a strong voice and helps us having a true public sphere.

Is the media giving us just one page of a whole book? It looks like we receive different news-angles depending on where we are, or at least who we are. Consider how many news channels there are:

  • BBC news (UK)
  • CNN (USA)
  • Al Jazeera English (Qatar)
  • Russia Today (Russian Federation)
  • ABC World (Australia)
  • France 24 (France)

This is only to mention a few. Combined with TV, radio and other web-based broadcasters the list of channels to choose from is long. Now think about where they are located, are their audience the same wherever they are? Are their target-groups the same? No.

People from different parts of the world have different issues which concerns them. While the western world might be worried about education, third world countries are concerned about having access to clean water. This example is extreme, but it is just to demonstrate what I refer to. Media broadcasters tend to “tailor” news according to the listener. A news channel based in USA knows an Americans concerns and will present their news in a way that touches upon these emotions. Another channel from another country is doing the same thing, except there the news are presented from a different angle, touching upon the emotions from another group of people.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) is the sister-channel of Al Jazeera Arabic and their main goal is to give “a voice to the voiceless”. AJE actually portrays their own mission like this:

“Our mission is to provide independent, impartial news for an international audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives from under-reported regions. In addition, the channel aims to balance the information flow between the South and the North. The channel of reference for the Middle East and Africa, Al Jazeera has unique access to some of the world’s most troubled and controversial locations. Our determination and ability to accurately reflect the truth on the ground in regions torn by conflict and poverty has set our content apart.”

Last week when the western media reported on the KONY2012 issue it was with consideration to a western audience. By following the public on twitter, Facebook, blogs etc they could easily pick up what was of interest and therefore the angle portrayed was; The Invisible Children ask us for money, are their agenda legit? Where do our money go? Are we being presented with the whole truth? Western media promoted their audience to be sceptical because they were asked to give something from themselves.

AJE took interest in another audience, the Ugandan audience, which had a whole other concern. A charity group showed the KONY2012-video to earlier victims of Kony and they reacted with disgust. AJE’s news-angle was; The Invisible Children-campaign makes the worst nightmare of Ugandan victims famous. Why would victims of Kony wear a t-shirt with his name on it? They also launched the Uganda Speaks project which highlighted the Ugandan people’s voice.

These are examples to how media can shape the way we think about world-issues in the way they portray it.