Do you remember when the last time you watched a news report was? Do remember how many times the news was filled with coverage about populations in famine or people getting killed in countries like Syria, Egypt or Palestine? Have you taken any action to try and help those in need? Those who are getting terrorized and killed by natural or man-made disasters? I can prove that the majority of you have not contributed to help those in need. But is it really our fault or is it that the media has diminished our humanity? In fact, the depletion of humanity starts from inside the news room and influences us, its audience.
Journalism students are daily reminded of objectivity in News coverage as being an extremely important element of their practice. Unfortunately like everything in life the definition of what objectivity is has evolved over time. Michael Bugeja, a journalism at Iowa State once said the following in 1996 "Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were." However what happened was that scholars dropped “the” from “the truth”. Now the definition of what is objectivity has totally changed from what it was 20 years ago (Cunningham, 2003).
The first and fore most component of objectivity has become avoiding being part of the action. A journalist is supposed to “otherwise be a keenly observant reporter or commentator” (Bowman, 2000). But how does this diminish our humanity? Reporters are asked not to help those who are in need as long as they are the journalists covering the story. For example, let us all remember Kevin Carter, the journalist who took a picture of a vulture about to eat a child in famine. Carter had the choice to save the child but he degraded his ethics and morals in order to follow the notion of objectivity.
Another sad element of objectivity is being unbiased, which is a great concept, but a sad one when you find news being biased in everything excluding sympathy. Why journalists are not supposed to be part of the act by saving a victim or helping those on the scene is because they are unconsciously going to feel empathy towards those who are suffering and it will somehow be reflected in their work. “The mainstream media are prejudiced, but not ideologically. The press's real bias is for conflict.” Said Evan Thomas(2008). In other words, the media community tries to convince its journalist that the right thing to do is to be unbiased by being uninvolved, while sadly they are biased because they love reporting war, crime, disasters and drama. Objectivity is about not taking sides but journalists are not objective. In fact, they are biased towards seeing others hurt and not helping.
The third aspect of objectivity if the firm stand on not using descriptive words of emotion. Since words of emotion somehow reveal what the reporter unconsciously could have felt about the catastrophe, scholars have decided to eliminate them in news coverage. This kills humanity because they don’t want us to feel for one another. They don’t want the reporter’s feelings to come across to us and of course therefore, we won’t feel sympathetic towards the victims that are being showed on TV.
Another important value that journalists have to follow is the use of logic and statistics to convey an unbiased, objective message. In almost every news coverage, people, victims, destructions, buildings, everything is turned into numbers and percentages. Of course, science and statistics convey a sense of authority by giving people the impression that journalists did take a long time to collect the information and run researches to be able to get the numbers that they came up with in their news coverage. Not to say that the reporters are creating fake numbers, but they are turning everything into numbers to the extent that the problem loses its humane side.
What’s worse is that TV programs interview a number of authorities on a given topic, with contradicting opinions. The authorities start to present statistics and facts that prove the other party wrong and it becomes a competition of who gains more audience instead of how to help victims of a famine for example. They deviate our attention from the main problem with their arguments and negotiation.
The problem of turning people into numbers and statistics leads me to the third technique that the media uses to kill our humanity which is using masses or groups of people versus an individual. Psychology proves that people identify with individuals and feel for them more than they would ever feel for a group. Psychologist Aronson and his colleagues (2013) believe that showing large numbers of people in suffering actually overlooks the minor important details of the suffering experience.
Plus, showing groups of people in crisis leaves the audience disoriented in terms of letting them know how they can help. This is the sad fact that news most of the time gives us sad news that hit us like a ton of bricks and they forget to tell us how can we help. They leave us confused. In short, one individual is enough to represent the minor details of how a group suffers but pushing a large number of people in one frame doesn’t help, it only makes the group of victims lose face.
Apart from techniques used in news coverage, I would like to highlight a very important contributor to numbing our humanity which is the detrimental violence we see in movies. Looking at the following statistics (Wade, 2010) contrasting violence rates in the 1940s to the 1900, there is a significant, obvious increase and moving on to the following pie chart (Dickson, 2014), it is obvious that some of the most watched genres are horror and action. In other words, genres that feature aggression and violence but how does this desensitize us? Let’s remember that watch we watch, whether a movie or a news coverage, it’s all through a screen. Maybe on a conscious level we can identify that the violence in movies is acting and what’s in news coverage is real but we fail to acknowledge the latter on an unconscious level. Psychologists Dave and Gloria (1999) said that “when we get used to a stimulus long enough, we stop responding”. This is what habituation or desensitization of humanity means in psychology with reference to news coverage.
To conclude, it is important for us to know the factors that contributed to use being inhumane and numb to others’ needs. We see disasters covered every day in the news but majority of the time we do not feel the need the take action despite feeling empathy towards the victims. This is because some of the techniques used by media such as objectivity in terms of not being involved, biased or using descriptive words. Last but not least, the obsessive use of logic and statistics kills humanity and the excessive violence in movies makes it normal to watch people.