In the past 12 months, our screens have been filled with images of horrific events from all corners of the globe unfolding in front of our eyes. From the disappearance of MH370 and the shooting down of MH17, to the Sydney siege and now, the Paris massacre. All of these events have had one thing in common: the media, in their race to be first with the story, regurgitated misinformation, only to correct themselves in the minutes and hours that followed. The news climate is changing before our eyes, and we are beginning to see outlets that care less and less about whether or not the information they are putting to air is correct, but more and more about whether they are the first to release information. Never was this more evident than during the Sydney siege, with the Seven Network's offices directly across from the unfolding drama, wildly inaccurate reports begun circulating within minutes. Reports of an ISIS flag in the window and multiple gunmen begun spreading, only to be corrected in the hours that followed. This kind of rush to have an exclusive, even if only for a short time, is what is dominating the reporting of major events in the world that we live in.
"In the initial wave of (mis)information, people cared more about sharing and seeing the events unfold than actually caring about what had happened."
And all of this is for good reason. The majority of people want to think they know what is happening, regardless of the validity of that information. And as TV audience numbers dwindle, and hundreds of 'news' websites compete for views, outlets will do whatever they need to hang onto the numbers on paper which investors crave. Which is fair enough, when people invest in a company, they expect to see returns. For a major investor in a news source to proclaim that they value facts and journalistic integrity over viewership would be a bold move, and one that I hope will come sooner rather than later.
This fight for viewers isn't just limited to commercial organisations, however. Australia's own ABC is facing a tough fight with the Federal Government for funding, and, they too, must show that people will watch their coverage before the Abbott Government decides to cut their funding further.
"The news stopped informing us, and started smothering us."
As details of the Charlie Hebdo shooting begun to filter through, outlets latched onto every tiny skerrick of information they could get their hands onto, calling in analysts, experts and whoever else proclaimed any knowledge that could potentially be relevant. As the fight for viewers raged on, the news stopped informing us, and started smothering us. Vision of masked men escaping from police, and gunshots being heard in the streets was replayed over and over, almost daring us to be scared, instructing us to be worried, reminding us that this could have happened anywhere, and could happen again as the masked gunmen drove away calmly. In the initial wave of (mis)information, people cared more about sharing and seeing the events unfold than actually caring about what had happened. From the other side of the world we watched, and we waited to see what could possibly happen next, almost completely disconnected from the situation. The media stopped delivering us valuable information, and instead was creating an unfolding TV drama, and, at first at least, ignoring the value of the lives that were lost.
This rush for information is not just damaging the previously proud profession of journalism, but also hinders the response of authorities to these horrendous events. As word spread that MH17 had been shot down over Ukraine, journalists from all over Europe rushed to the scene, breaking through and getting access to areas which police and investigators had not yet seen. A similar occurrence happened as the Sydney siege unfolded. On numerous occasions, journalists were moved away to give police better access, and even had to be asked to not show live images, or images from certain angles in case the gunman was watching. In the rush to be first, there is no time to consider the possible implications of reporting on events which are unfolding, especially when people's lives are still hanging in the balance.
I sincerely hope that in the coming months and years we see a change in the way that news and current affairs are reported. I believe that one day we will see news which ignores the rush of facts, and instead of reporting first and apologising later, considers what they are doing, and makes informed decisions about what the audience needs to know, and separates real fact from fiction which has become so much easier in this day of social media. How far away that day is, nobody knows. We can only hope that it comes sooner rather than later.
This post was inspired by a chat with a close friend last night. Thank you for inspiring me, and giving me hope for the future.