"The media no longer hesitate to whip up lurid anxieties in order to increase sales, in the process undermining social confidence and multiplying fears."
— A.C. Grayling in "Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life without God".
Some ideas of my own that were raised by the quote:
One of the big questions of our time is if our perception of many issues has changed because of the one-sided information that we receive. Is our society, for example, more violent that our society 30 years ago or is violence just more much more prominently displayed in the media?
In fact, in the United States the rate of serious crime per inhabitant is smaller now than in 1980 (see http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm ) and development has been similar also elsewhere. However, our perception of the general level of security in our societies just might have changed for the worse simply because the media has seen that big money is to be made from reporting more about crime.
In my youth there was scarcely a mention of crime in the main evening news, when now crime is often even the main subject. It is not crime as a social phenomena that are brought up. However, the individual crimes that in the end mostly have real importance only to very small group of people.
If every single case of industrial accidents would be presented in similar gory detail, and every person related in some way about the case would be interviewed, and the legal proceedings surrounding the case would be followed with great intensity, very soon industrial accidents would soon be seen as a major social problem and a cause for real concern in the whole of society.
The sad fact is that this not the case. Industrial accident concerning unknown individuals are mostly just passingly mentioned in the media. This is true, even if a crime with much lesser consequences involving the same person would make big headlines.
The sad fact also is that the immense amount of air time and newspaper coverage of the crimes does not prevent crime at all. In fact, it can even make crime to be seen as a normal and accepted part of daily life. It can also create very negative role models, when the evil persons get more and more media exposure. The later problem is intensified by the culture where media attention can really become the most important thing there is in life.
However, this overflowing coverage of crime does, in fact, deteriorate the quality life of for many people. Their perception of the world is twisted and quite unnecessary fears are created in their minds. The sad part is that this fear-mongering is not kept up because of real concern for the humans who are really affected by crime. However, on the contrary, it is done to earn the biggest possible amount of money on their expense.
Reporting on crime plays on the darkest side of human nature; fear, hate and anxiety. Feeding maximally on those emotions in purpose can have only a negative impact in the long run.
I’m not suggesting that keeping quiet about crime would be a good thing. I just ask if it really is necessary to spread the most disgusting details of human life in all of its gory details day after day? How does it serve the common good to dwell in every single sordid detail of mind-boggling acts of cruelty in television news? These things could well be also reported in a much subtler way. One just does not need to know every dirty detail.
However, this socially responsible reporting would not generate money in the way that fear-mongering and gut-splashing sensationalism will. When we are offered the possibility to dwell in the worst humanity has on offer, the sad fact is that there are a lot of people who will like nothing else more.
There is a streak of cruelty and inhumanity in all of us that does feed on these displays of cruelty. Also, the act witnessing the worst features that humanity can produce can give us a feeling of being better persons than the the lowlifes on whose wrong-doings media feasts on.
However, in many other things we need to refrain ourselves with great difficulty from following our lowest impulses, We do this to achieve a greater common good. Perhaps, we should keep in check also this despicable impulse of reveling in the worst things that the humans are capable of.
The more so as the splashing out of the gory details will never prevent new crimes, but can act as impulses for copy-cats. The same lowest of human impulses did draw tens of thousands of ordinary nice people to Colosseum to witness horrible slaughter for their amusement only.
There is an awfully little that we can really do about this. However, one can leave the most horrid fear-mongering tabloids to their sellers or change channel when the slaughter starts.
It is the consumer that decides what sells. When violence does not sell anymore, it will not be on sale anymore. This is just a pipe-dream for now, but anybody can stop buying into it it today and tomorrow and day after tomorrow without any real cost to oneself.
If enough people would do likewise, the slaughter in the front pages would eventually cease. These horrid items would perhaps drop to page two or three or even lower given due time.
(This page was completely refurbished on 15th of November, 2012)
A. C. Grayling is in Facebook at:
"Anthony Clifford Grayling (born 3 April 1949) is an English philosopher. In 2011 he founded and became the first Master of New College of the Humanities, an independent undergraduate college in London. Until June 2011, he was Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, where he taught from 1991. He is also a supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. Grayling is the author of around 30 books on philosophy, including The Refutation of Scepticism (1985), The Future of Moral Values (1997), The Meaning of Things (2001), and The Good Book (2011). He is a Trustee of the London Library, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is also a director of and contributor to Prospect Magazine."