Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Media

As a relatively small hurricane moves the east coast of the United States in a relatively rare direct hit, can really be the only one to regard the media coverage as ludicrous?

Every trite cliche, every slick and empty phrase has been trotted out in support of the IMPORTANCE OF THE STORY, and for a day or two it will doubtless be a nuisance to my friends on the East Coast.

It is not, however, the end of the world if New York experiences a bit of sea flooding- and the City and indeed the country are well prepared: Hurricane Katrina, this ain't.

So why treat it as though it is?

This is news as a horror show. This is news as "entertainment".

It shows the media at its most base, most trivial, and most dangerous. The great pictures and the potential for nasties justifies the massive editorial commitment to the story, even if -as we hope, and as seems likely- it turns into a pretty minor event.

Such editorializing should remind us of the essentially tabloid nature of television. Immediate images and glib phrases, however, are not information. Indeed the immediate emotional impact of a powerful image can actually be irrational. We believe our eyes- yet television is a remarkably, and increasingly, dishonest medium.

As we "discover" the negative health impact of watching television for hours on end (well, duh!), it is easy to lose sight of the negative intellectual impact of television. Long gone are the glory days of David Attenborough's BBC 2, home of the Ascent of Man, Civilisation , Life on Earth, Horizon, Chronicle and Monty Python. The audiences of tens of millions who watched these landmark programmes have now shrunk to a level that is said to be too small to sustain the costs that it takes to make them. The cheap and trashy shows that were always a feature of the telly and now dominant. Ever increasing sensation and vulgarity have coarsened much in our society.

Television news has also dumbed-down to a level that is barely believable to those raised on the magisterial reporters of the 1960s or 1970s: Walter Cronkite, Alistair Cooke, Mark Tully, Alistair Burnet and Sandy Gall.

So as image becomes the measure of a story, I find myself thinking that the integrity of the news media has now evaporated. It is this breakdown in integrity that I see across many other realms of human activity- from politics to science- yet it is in the media where the rot seems most putrid.

The media can not hold anyone else to account when it is itself so bound up in its own corruption. The Murdoch scandal has revealed how deep seated that corruption has become. Now the trivial and trite banalities being sprayed around like a hurricane storm surge in today's coverage shows just how incapable television now seems of creating its own remedy.

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