Television news shows many scenes of disasters and violence. What effect can this have on individuals and society?
Satellite television and 24-hour news channels mean that viewers are inundated with images of natural disasters, wars and conflict from around the world. While it’s important to know what is going on in our world, it can be depressing or counter-productive to watch repeated images of famine, fighting or fear. In this essay, I will ask if these scenes have a negative effect on us.
Most people agree with the need for news organizations to provide us with up-to-date and accurate information, and live pictures convey information in a way that words cannot. For one thing, live footage or pictures allow us to understand the situation very rapidly. People can grasp what is happening much more quickly than by reading long articles. A second point is that pictures allow us to form our own idea of the situation, without input from the reporter or journalist. A picture of a starving refugee baby or of riot police and tear gas does not seem to need explanation. Finally, graphic pictures force us to see the situation as it affects normal people, not the politicians at their meetings or in their expensive cars.
However, the constant barrage of images can be counterproductive. Instead of learning more about the starving baby and what led to the situation, we push the image from our mind. To protect ourselves, we group the images: another typhoon in the Philippines, another earthquake in China, another bomb in Gaza. As more and more images appear we feel more and more powerless and unable to contribute to solving the problem. A second point is that news organizations compete to make their images more graphic: greater carnage, more crying mothers, angrier protestors. We also have to question the reliability of some of the images: are they staged? Many television stations and journalists have their own bias and agenda. The result of this is that watching the news becomes harder and we respond less and less to the situation and to the human suffering.
In conclusion, we need to stay informed but we also need to limit our exposure to the constant tide of news and shocking images. Too much can wear us down or make us callous, and we need to get past the simplistic images and understand the story behind it.