Does the media today give us too much information?
Today’s press in Britain tells us lots of things, way much more than they used to. It is partly due to the age of information overload that we are living in. They tell us what they say has happened, but very rarely tell us who their source is. They tell us what they say that we should think. They tell us who they think we should vote for. They tell us things that an increasing number of people don’t think should be told to us. All this because they argue it is in ‘the public interest’. Just what are the parameters of what is not and what is in the public interest?
Helping the bad guys?
A number of years ago, one of the UK tabloid newspapers were reporting that surface to air missiles were capable of bringing down passenger jet airplanes near to Heathrow. They gave detailed step by step information and location maps of how it was possible. Information that a terrorist or potential terrorist could use to carry out the very atrocity they had described. I remember thinking at the time that this was such an irresponsible action by the newspaper. They would argue that the public have a right to know this information and that they have a duty to publish this kind of article.
On multiple other occasions, newspapers have published photographs of disaster sites where people have lost their lives. Their choice of photographs have left sensitivity aside and have shown dead bodies or grieving parents or partners. This may be their attempt to show the reality and effect of what has occurred. Putting a real person into a scene that may not seem too real to others is an effective way of getting a story across. Lots of people react more emotively to photographs and video clips than we do for words.
Is the intrusion into a person’s grief really in the public interest though? Is showing graphic and sometimes very upsetting images or films really in our best interest? How is our experience enhanced by seeing this. We can get the picture by reading a description perfectly fine without the need to over-personalise it. I don’t think our lives are benefiting in any way by these reports and articles. I don’t think just because some people may have a curiosity, whatever their reasons why, that this truly captures the spirit of being in the public’s interest.
What IS in the public’s interest?
What is in the public’s interest? Obviously there is some way away from just having news that is just purely for what we need to know. There is decency and taste to consider. The sensitivities of victims and grieving or shocked relatives and friends need to be considered. Almost anything nowadays can be argued as being in the public’s interest. The definitions are very loose and I don’t think that it is a healthy state for us to have this kind of exposure.
The public is such a wide and general audience, there are many varied and different views on what is of interest and what is not. I believe that media editors, broadcasters and the publishing world in general has a responsibility to be more thoughtful and not just chase the extra sales through sensationalism, over-exposure or information overload when sensitivity, thoughtfulness and a sense of responsibility should be a core essence of having the mechanism of speaking to an audience.