Using media as WMD
By Chidi Emmanuel
KUWAIT: The role of the media in every society is to promote peace and to inform the public of events around the world. Media can contribute a lot to society. Journalists can change people’s opinions because they have access to people, which gives them a lot of strength. This strength can be used constructively by informing and educating people destructively by inciting and misleading them. The power of the media can transform the whole of society, especially in developing nations, where it can be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
With an unprecedented proliferation of state and private media establishments, good journalism - the entire information-gathering and dissemination process - has grown in importance. There is a need to sharpen journalists professional skills in order to meet the latest challenges. Regrettably, journalism is now becoming a tool to incite trouble, with professional ethics rapidly degenerating. Ethics are crucial in journalism in this part of the world (the Middle East) because of its sensitivity and the relative youth of the profession here. Journalists are, moreover, the engineers of public opinion, with readers, listeners and even viewers depending on the items of information they decide to use. A glance at the newspaper headlines from across the globe indicates a serious degradation in the ethics of journalism.
Headlines such as US deports two Muslims, Blast in Lebanon kill four Christians and Spanish police arrest 15 Muslims are quite misleading and can incite trouble because of their focus on religion. In the first headline, one may conclude that the US deported these two men because they are Muslims. Upon reading the article, however, it becomes clear that they were deported because they violated immigration laws. So why didn’t the headline read: Two Illegal Immigrants Deported ? A headline is created to capture readers’ attention, but it should be created with caution especially when it comes to subjects like religion. A reader’s decision to read an article depends entirely on the attractiveness of its headline. This means that the phrasing must be instantly clear and not solely created to make readers curious.
Even in the electronic media, the BBC and CNN have been accused many times of painting the African continent so negatively that people in other parts of the world don’t believe that anything good can come from Africa. What these media giants always showcase are the poverty-stricken people, AIDS-sufferers and hungry-looking people in war-ravaged areas. Africa is far better than how it is portrayed as being. This is media-terrorism in the sense that this issue in particular - negative and biased depiction - has affected tourism in Africa and even in the Middle East as people from other parts of the world now see these areas as volatile and insecure.
While the Middle East has become synonymous with violence, Africa has become synonymous with disease and insecurity as negatively portrayed by the Western media. But the truth is that neither is anywhere near as bad as it is portrayed as being. The negative power of the media can be more deadly and more dangerous than ballistic missiles. lb avoid any suspicion of intentionally using negative and off-putting images of a particular religion, nation or continent, journalism should be above reproach. Public suspicion could lead to a loss of faith in the media, which in turn could hamper the contribution of journalism to the economic and sociopolitical development of society.
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