The media may love bad news, but that’s its job
By Simon Mwangi
The media has been awash with depressing news. The report of a military man alleged to have murdered and buried his ex-wife and her two children has been making headlines in the past few days.
The story broke in the wake of the gruesome killing of six men hired to provide security during a burial in Busia county after they were purportedly disowned by the person who hired them.
These two incidents, along dozens others, have been prominent.
The coverage of such “bad news” has attracted hue and cry from sections of the public, including some opinion shapers in the Fourth Estate, who feel the media has been distressing their audiences with such news. They opine that the focus should be on positive stories.
The concerns are valid, but that it is not the way the media operates. The role of the media in informing the public is such that ignoring such occurrences would amount to slant coverage and negates the spirit of social awakening bestowed upon media practitioners.
As the fourth pillar of democracy, today’s media has an all-encompassing role to act against prejudice, subjugation, transgressions and subjectivity in society.
Both conventional and new media are important sources of information about other people and other places. This helps to prompt understanding especially if presented in a fair, objective and undramatic way.
Additionally, journalism is not public relations where subjects are weaved to maintain positive images and reputation in the minds of publics. Journalists and public relations practitioners both tell stories, but the objectives of these stories differ. One of the elements that determine newsworthiness is human interest, where a situation draws any sort of emotional reaction.
In journalism, a human interest story is a feature that discusses a person, or people, in an emotional manner. It presents people and their problems, concerns, or achievements in a way that brings about interest, sympathy or motivation in the reader or viewer.
The Social Responsibility Theory of the press posits that the media has a duty to the public. This hypothetical approach is a result of media ethics. Early adopters of the theory believed that mass media should contribute to societal improvement. The theory has been widely recognized by media practitioners and scholars since the Commission on Freedom of the Press in 1947.
The philosophical underpinnings of this theory support the position that the media has a duty to the public and thus is obligated to present that which advances public good.
Viewers and readers are advised to be aware of their cognitive biases to avoid emotional distress emanating from negative news reports. This way they are able to sift the negative emotions associated with that which might in their eyes appear upsetting.
Learning to indulge in a progressive relaxation technique after watching such type of news is also another strategy that viewers can use to suppress the negative feelings.
Media portrayals, however, can at times serve to aggravate the narrative of antagonistic forces and irreconcilable, value-based differences. There have been assertions that the media habitually chooses to dwell on conflict, since acrimony and drama sell newspapers and attract TV and radio audiences.
This means the more perceived undesirable media stories getting airtime compete with accommodating and balanced perspectives expected by an audience and this creates an imbalanced feeling.
—The writer is a communications specialist