Monday, August 29, 2011
The More You Watch the Less You Know
Famines are not inevitable and they do not happen in isolation from the rest of the world. A drought is a natural event. Mass starvation is not. They are the consequence of human decision-making. Public indifference will only be dispelled when the media begin to explain, carefully and accurately, how and why famine occurs.
In 2002 Greg Philo summarised three major studies by the Glasgow Media Group that explored UK media coverage and public understanding of the developing world. Decisions made by broadcasters (on commercial criteria) about what viewers would desire to watch have produced very negative responses in television audiences towards the developing world and war, conflict and disaster within it. (2) That audiences are misinformed because of the low level of explanation and context that is given and because some explanations that are present in television reporting are partial and informed by what might be termed “neocolonial” beliefs. (3) That a change in the quality of the explanations that are given—for example showing the international economic and political links
that underpin the continuance of a war—can radically alter both attitudes and the level of audience interest.
There is a widespread belief in broadcasting that audiences are not interested in factual programming about the developing world. Commercial criteria are now a key consideration for programme makers and this comes down in part to providing what they assume the audiences will want to watch. One consequence of these assumptions on audience interest has apparently been the drastic reduction of factual programming about the developing world.
Yet the Glasgow Media Group's studies showed that audiences became much more engaged in stories about conflict in the Third World once they were able to situate what was happening in a broader explanatory context. As long as foreign news stories were presented as a series of disasters far away that had no connection with events at home, people's interest was weak. Not only that, Philo's interviewees would often say that the problems were down to the failure of people in poor countries to manage their affairs competently. Once it was pointed out that Western diamond and oil companies were helping to drive conflict in Angola, for example, people became much more engaged. The problems of ordinary people far away became more, not less, interesting as viewers were offered a structural account. Conflict is inexplicable without reference to resources and to the unaccountable financial infrastructure used to hide the spoils. Without an explanation that makes sense audiences will, not unreasonably, look elsewhere. Though the media may feel more comfortable offering emotionally accessible stories about individual suffering, the evidence suggests that clear structural explanations are more likely to engage audiences.
Taken from here