Today’s media feeds on immediacy of news like never before. The news is NOW and has to appeal emotionally to the reader / viewer / listener in order to be effective. The tabloids battle with the slates by uncovering the news in a cruder, more shocking way. In an age of voyeurism, the greatest infiltration of the private coupled with the greatest possibility to be able to empathise with an unknown are exploited in order to create the media version of Cup-a-Soup News. The problem with the fast-food-like media coverage is that the effectiveness of a news item and its realities lasts barely a day or two. Unless the audience can be constantly fed new scoops, new images and new shocking details, the news is often past its sell-by date.
Take the Madeleine circus. The parents were able to exploit the need of the media to tap into the emotionalaspect of the case and have kept the story alive much further than it would really warrant in today’s cynical age. Of course we needed side stories (like the allegations of inefficiency of the Portuguese police), we needed an international dimension (on the 60th anniversary of Roswell, sightings of Madeleine became a new vogue across Europe) and of course we needed an unwiling celebrity – the little girl with the peculiar iris. All this does not go to say that the parents’ grief is not justified but more that they have succeeded where many other parents failed – to project the distress and grief that a family feels when it loses a loved one due to some inexplicable kidnapping.
The many other children who are missing normally barely make the headlines on the day of their disappearance and then would only be lucky enough to be mentioned (on a back page) should they ever be reunited with their parents. The values of newsworthiness have changed. The Bulgarian nurses in Libya know something about that. They have been in prison since 1999. Accused of spreading HIV through infected blood, they have been facing a death sentence for almost ten years.
They would occasionally turn up on our screens – always behind the bars of a Libyan Court – while a two lined paragraph would be read by a newscaster telling us the latest reason why their death sentence continued to hang over their heads like the proverbial dagger. Then we would forget about them for a year or maybe two before something newsworthy happens again for us to be given another peek at their bedraggled faces. Until yesterday, when their death sentence was commuted to a life sentence after the victims’ families accepted monetary compensation. We wait for one more news item… the one where hopefully, Colonel Ghaddafi pardons the nurses and sends them back home.
It is difficult to imagine how these nurses must have lived the past ten years. Probably none of us can understand their reality, their daily suffering, the ugliness of imprisonment in a country that is not your own. Obviously we cannot expect the media to have given us daily reports on their condition and suffering. We cannot expect a daily coverage of the event – especially when it stretches over such a long period of time.
What we could do is take time to reflect on these news items that are peppered into our dumbed down heads day in day out. We could go that extra mile to really “listen” to the message behind the news. Only that way will 60 deaths in an Afghan/Iraqi market not turn out to be “Just another bombing”. Only then will we bgin to understand that another corpse found floating near Qui-Si-Sana is not “just another immigrant” who lost his gamble with life before even landing on a the promised land.