Having grown up in a rural town, my exposure to the wider world, to different cultures and religions was purely based on my various travels as a child and my education. In comparison, friends who, for example, are New York natives, have had very different experiences and exposure to issues such as diversity, racism, discrimination, and terrorism. When speaking of our experiences, it becomes clear that, despite the contrast in our upbringings, we share the same annoyance at the general weak education and understanding of recent history and current affairs. With this, the need for deeper knowledge on different countries, cultures and religions becomes evident. After thinking about this further, I concluded that one of the major problems is our lack of access to real news, particularly surrounding the Middle East.
'Fake news', as it's often called, has long been on the rise. We, the public, are being presented with sensationalised and inconsistent news which is having a profound influence on our views. The absence of complex stories is affecting everything from the treatment of fellow citizens to government policy. We are living in a complex world, yet the news that we receive is simple, barely scratching the surface of certain events. Too often a story will be ignored for too long, then given quick coverage and a simple solution. A new topic will emerge and eclipse the importance of previous events, preventing much needed follow up. We are lacking in alternative, on the ground news sources covering local responses. We know little about the people on the ground and the locals who are affected. News and the media are no longer driven by a need to inform but a desire to sell the most papers or provide the best entertainment. This is not to say that sales, entertainment, and business are not important parts of the media world today, but it's worth posing the question of whether they should take precedence over the provision of deeper and more rounded broadcasts.
To put this in context, a young man late last year was removed from a plane at Heathrow when heard speaking Arabic on the phone to his mother. Feeling uncomfortable and scared, his fellow passengers can possibly be seen to inadvertently link Arabic to the radical Islamism that appears in today's media. Perhaps if the passengers had a greater understanding of other cultures and religions, they may have understood that not everyone from the Middle East speaks Arabic, and that the Middle East and the Islamic world are very different. Perhaps, the young man on the plane would have been treated differently if it was reported how radical Islamist groups are in the minority, with most groups working within their states borders through political institutions to promote Islamism. A poll carried out by Pew Research Centre on global attitudes and trends reports a decrease in support for suicide bombings in the past ten years in countries such as Pakistan, Lebanon, and Palestine, yet despite this, that information has never been incorporated into what we read, hear, or see. Thus, the incomplete picture presented to us is affecting our day-to-day lives.
Another clear example is shown with an opinion poll carried out by Knight Ridder. When asking Americans how many of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi, 44% believed that some to most were Iraqi. The answer, however, is that none of the 9/11 hijackers were of Iraqi origin. The media coverage at the time, particularly those surrounding President Bush, spoke about Iraq and 9/11 in the same context. Despite not explicitly linking the attacks to Iraq, the media still managed to inadvertently shape people's perception on the events. The power of the media, then, is clear. Whether someone reads a paper, follows news online or just tunes in for the 10pm news bulletin, we rely heavily on broadcasting services to educate us on national and global events. If we can't go and see it for ourselves, we have very few other options.
The media doesn't just have influence at a societal level, but a political level as well. When policy making, governments will react to the consensus of the time. If that is fear, then the policies will, arguably, attempt to counter-act that fear. Whilst further factors of nationalism, economy and personal politics will also play a role, the media's firm roots in society will have an impact. By having access to more complex and alternative information, governments will also be able to act and produce complex solutions. Problems today do not necessarily go away with simple solutions, meaning the more authentic picture a journalist can paint, the better.
I don't have the solutions to these problems; hopefully someone, somewhere will. Yes, there are other factors which must be considered with the media today, but the recognition for the need of deeper, un-sensationalised reporting is the first step to achieving this goal.