As the audience for news outlets, we can be dangerously passive when we are ‘fed’ the news. Whilst we can speculate or fill in the gaps, the majority of what we are told we take as fact, which can have detrimental consequences. For example, when the BBC and other news outlets tell us that a “Pakistani asylum seeker” has been arrested for the Berlin Christmas market attack, the problem starts. Less than a day after this original report, the BBC had to update it as the German authorities said they didn’t think he was the right man, and he was let go for insufficient evidence. But by this point, the damage was already done. You have to be particularly ignorant to believe ‘all Muslims are terrorists’, but scarily it is growing more prominent by the day: and such reporting only encourages these thoughts.
With growing social media power, there is pressure for journalists to get their story out fast and worry about the facts later, which dilutes what we are told and how we perceive world events. It was not necessary for the mass audiences of the BBC to be told that the suspect in custody was “Pakistani” or an “asylum seeker”, because these qualities match the negative connotations that fit into long-standing media rhetoric against both groups. This man being released does nothing to stop the hate that’s circulating: he is irrelevant now that this animosity has once again been put into the public mind.
Words are incredibly powerful, and they cannot be taken back. An apology like the recent ones by Katie Hopkins to the Mahmood family do absolutely nothing to reverse the discrimination spurred by such poor journalism. Whilst I am completely baffled that Hopkins is still allowed any platform to voice her poisonous opinions, her reporting (I use that word loosely here) has already fuelled more hatred towards minorities, and it will not stop her or others like her from expressing these views in the future. Opinion-based reporting is selective storytelling and encourages ignorance from only accepting the small part of the story you are told. Mainstream opinions about current affairs are controlled by a select few agendas that, with our passive acceptance, transpire easily to the rest of society.
So how do we change this? I’ve said countless times, both through my blog and to my peers that we need to be proactive. That’s the only way to stop allowing mass media corporations to feed our ignorance and create divisions between us. I again go back to the ‘all Muslims are terrorists’ rhetoric (I am repeating this as it is the most relevant theme of recent times, although my point is not limited to this example alone). As a political argument it has no basis, as British history was built on Christians ‘terrorising’ the world with the excuse of civilising it. I don’t want to get too much into that but as a British-Indian I am always shocked at how ignorance can be discerning. The only way to make a change is to be as well informed as possible. We cannot allow ourselves to be a passive audience for the media and be too scared to challenge what we are told (or not told).
The problem doesn’t just lie with people seeing media agendas and doing nothing about it, but also with people who believe everything they are told. You cannot control how other people think; the only way to break ignorance is to change the rhetoric. If division and selective news reporting was not the norm, people would have to pay attention to the bigger picture.
Don’t blame the world for not telling you everything, blame yourself for not making it your priority to know as much as possible. The news sector is creating more detachment everyday – we can see it happening, so why are we accepting it? Make it a point to question everything you see and anything that doesn’t quite add up; it’s the first step.