Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Saturday, March 05, 2005  

In her column (not, nor will it ever be, it seems, a permalink) in today's Guardian, Atillah Springer criticises the decision of her paper to publish, splayed across its front page and in full colour, the photo of a body of a man killed in an accident on the Port of Spain docks earlier this week. Springer's beef is that the dead man is of the "working" or "lower" class (I use the quotes since I subscribe, in a fashion, to Lloyd Best's argument that Trinidad's is a classless society) and that rather than call attention to tragedy in any positive sense, such media decisions only strip these people of their self-respect, and turn the rest of us into voyeurs.

The poor are frequently featured with all the rawness of their deprivation on display. We love to see that. We love to see the people and dem bawling, beating their breasts and baring their teeth. Performing for a society that needs to see these images to remind them of how lucky they are to have their security gates and their tinted car glasses....

Does the picture of a dead man on the front page of a newspaper inspire pathos? Does it make us feel to go out there and protest poor working conditions, even as we roll our eyes and complain about our dull and probably thieving semi-literate maids? Do we feel badly about the inequalities? Or do we just buy our papers and tut tut about it a little and then forget a man called Marcus Arthur existed?

I'm with Springer here. What interest, apart from obvious need to spike circulation--or, in the case of television, viewership--is being served? Why, when there are weighty political issues to be tackled daily, does the evening news virtually always lead with the breast beating and teeth baring? Where does that get us?

"We are so focused on the end result we are ignoring the causes," says Springer. Exactly so: another worker was killed accidentally on the port later in the week. Will the media look to examine the roots of the issue, and give precedence to that, or push the travesty of the deaths of these men in their typical, luridly sensationalistic way?

Unlike Springer, I think there is a way out of the "dichotomy between providing information and descending into lurid displays." It's going to take time, effort, and most of all the will to do it. Which means it probably won't be happening any time soon. As the recent decision by the Express to dumb-down--sorry, improve--its format shows (its serialisation of the novel The Dragon Can't Dance notwithstanding), the media's focus isn't at the top of the agenda, merely the bottom line.

posted by Jonathan | 12:35 PM 0 comments


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