The news this summer has been particularly grim; ebola has ravaged Western Africa, massacre has ranged from Ukraine, to Iraq, to Israel-Palestine. These events have rightly dominated the front pages and news bulletins, accompanied by haunting photos of the civilians caught up in them – a little girl in a Gazan hospital, a young boy forced to flee Mosul, the thousands of people who lined the route from Eindhoven air base to Hilversum in the Netherlands travelled by the hearses which carried the bodies of those killed on flight MH17. The world felt these people’s pain.
But the newspapers have only so many pages, the news programs have only so much time, and new events replace old. The media has to keep one step ahead of waning public opinion, which gets bored of a story within just a few days. Profits matter. And so we no longer hear of the war in Syria, where the death toll is now 160,000. Nor do we hear much of Libya as it crumbles, forcing the US and Britain to close their embassies. In Europe, we hear little of the thousands of children who have turned up, starving, scared and alone, on the Texas/Mexico border and who face an uncertain future. The crises in the CAR and Mali are unreported outside France, and we have long forgotten the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls whose story once captured the world’s attention.
Ignorance is the precursor to powerlessness. You have to know about a problem to do something about it, and the media has a duty to keep people informed. The media should not just reflect society, but also lead it. It should remind people of problems which are long-running, not just headline-grabbing ones. That is how public opinion is formed, and how change happens. For public opinion is a stronger force than people give it credit for. Israel is terrified of going so far that it loses American backing or inflames the boycott movement. Putin’s meddling in Ukraine is based on calculations about popularity at home. But because these issues aren’t going to be addressed for long, those causing so much damage will simply get away with it, as the media moves on.