It takes a lot of strength to read headlines nowadays. There is only misery and hopelessness. Everything is crashing and everything is dismal. There was a time during the Corona days when the media managed to kill millions all over the world. The stories were debated and discussed and the verdict was always -hopelessness and Armageddon. I even lost many friends on Facebook when I refuted some of the fears, anxieties and allegations. And the source of all this pessimism was global media.
I remember asking one friend why they were spreading fear. The response was: "we are trying to scare them into acting responsibly." In other words, scaring was an act of kindness and all for the good of humanity. Fear and hate is supposed to work wonders.
Is fear and hate mongering the media's job?
As the corona crisis shows, two factors played a major role in fear mongering. Media's lack of knowledge about the virus pandemic in general and statements made by medical experts to the media. It worked both ways. Media lacked understanding of the issue and the experts loved being at the centre of attention. It's not every day that doctors replace politicians at the center stage and they took full advantage of the situation.
Obviously, everyone likes to be in the glare as the event showed. Except that, although they spoke as experts nobody really knew what was going on or whether they were right or not. It took months before people even understood what was going on. But by then, the damage was done in terms of media credibility while death rates climbed and the health system was slayed.
The corona crisis showed the power of the media as an information channeling tool and experts as sources of sensational information. And it also exposed their weakness as well. However, sensationalism - read fear and other emotion mongering - has now become established as a global tool in the media. In fact, in the post corona world, the US-China rivalry and the Russo-Ukraine war has been a blessing for a media that no longer can afford to think and survive in the market.
One may argue that the media is what it does but spreading misinformation is a problem. People are rapidly going off "professional" media in many cases. This is because alternatives are available more than ever before. Corona was a boon not only to sensational journalism but digitalization as well. Social media saw a huge explosive growth as people turned to all sorts of sources in times of crisis. And in every click that people made in reading non-professional media, the pro media was hit. The big fatality has both just been the human health system and humans as well but human media too.
No way other than sensationalism?
Bangladesh media is a good example of this syndrome where all the factors are now present. It isn't drawing quality talents as it did in the golden era of the middle class. While a few at the top and the smart ones are doing very well, media is not a well-paid profession anymore. It has begun to look a bit thin as the supply-demand equation has begun to favour the owners as more seek jobs, any jobs. At the same time, the enterprising ones have begun to drift into other sectors including the multiple digital world.
Media units are now vehicles for ownership "branding" not information as having an outlet is more important than what it says in the crony capitalist world. Thus owners are keen to own not provide info. Attention seeking therefore becomes an inevitable source of filling up pages. And sensationalism is a necessary ingredient of remaining visible.
And it's at this juncture that the experts come in as it's so easy to get info by just making a phone call.
The trend began with corona but has continued with great energy as Bangladesh hit an economic crisis wall along with many other states particularly the less wealthy ones. It was perplexing for most and people wanted answers but it was not found anywhere as our media is not trained to report on technical issues. So they found an easy way out. Call an expert.
The fault is not of the expert as he wants to enjoy being a public profile holder but of the journo who takes down what he says and publishes as he has no way of knowing what the experts say without checking let alone understanding. And soon there is a galaxy of experts all wanting to speak. Soon there is a competition among them and each speaker is into more doom and gloom because the media thinks that's what the public wants to hear.
Quotation journalism's great problem is exactly that. The bar is raised with every quotation and the media keeps pushing for more. In the process, public interest and confidence runs elsewhere as social media offers many more choices and professional media is sort of imploding.
Is it therefore a surprise that most are turning to media that is more about opinions than facts? Will it be shocking if people find that ChatGPts with all their inaccuracies is as interesting in media generated by humans?
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