In the editors’ office at Youth Time we’ve been thinking hard about what to write about the recent events in Ukraine. Of course it is impossible to ignore what is going on. Right in front of our eyes, history is being made in one of the biggest countries in Europe. And we are not talking about the history of a single state but of the whole world. A new game is being played on the chessboard of modern geopolitics, and what the alignment of forces will be, we will see in the very near future. However we do not want to discuss simply the sequence of moves, thus joining other media sources in chasing after breaking news. And most of all we do not want to take sides and defend the interests of anyone in particular. Why not? Thanks to modern technology this situation is surrounded by such a thick informational “fog” that we can hardly distinguish the features of reality through it. And this is exactly the topic we would like to touch upon and discuss with our readers.
The essence of mass media activities
What is any media outlet actually like? It is, first, a group of individuals, i.e. journalists and editors with a set of specific skills and their own views. Often belonging to the same society and adhering to the same system of values in a global sense, these people work together to create an information product. Then in order for this product to exist and to function well it must be in demand. Ratings – this is the cherished goal sought by almost all media. But it is impossible to build strong ratings without funding.
Therefore, when you receive information from any journalistic story you need to remember several rules which all media participants follow:
a) Mass media never covers something that is not bright, not sensational and will not arouse intense interest! Otherwise – they will lose their audience to their competitors.
b) The first paragraph implies that any media outlet is a hostage of society, of the social group for which it writes. Media must always remain within the understanding of its audience.
c) The range of problems covered by media is defined by the field of interests of its journalists, editors, and investors.
Now we will try to show how all these factors affect the coverage of events in Ukraine in the media around the world.
How media from different countries cover Ukraine
At the time of publication the latest news from Ukraine was about the preparation for the Crimean referendum on autonomy accession to Russia. People who speak several languages can easily track the differences in the interpretation of this event. Of course, more or less decent media lead the overall chronology of events by quoting officials, publishing declarative statements of national leaders virtually unchanged. But what can be read between the lines? For example, in American news feeds, including ABC, the “shady past” of the current leader of the Crimea, Sergey Aksenov, is being fully discussed. In Russian media there is not a single word said about it, but a lot of journalistic effort has been spent covering nationalistic statements by Dmitry Jarosz, one of the leaders at the Maidan and a possible presidential candidate, as well as on statements regarding concerns about the safety of Russian citizens in the Crimea. English BBC runs a prominent headline:
“The Crimea will not be recognized!” The Guardian publishes comments of the Crimean military about their intimidation by Russian colleagues. Not without sarcasm Czech national TV shows Moscow gleeful about the annexation of the Crimea, and newspapers strongly draw parallels with the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Once again, in different news feeds basic facts are stated pretty much in the same way but background information, included to develop an understanding of the broader context, leads to conclusions about the events that are fundamentally different. The accents, the perspectives, and the points of emphasis are completely different.
Think about what comes out of it. If you watch ABC you will instantly find yourself being a critic of “bandit Aksenov” who certainly does not deserve a place in the government. If you are a reader of the Russian press you are seriously concerned about the presence of “nationalist Jarosz” in a position of power in Ukraine. If you read the Guardian, you will sympathize with “the poor, abandoned by all” Crimean soldiers. Well, if you’re a member of the Czech audience then you will have to face all those painful long-ago memories, now almost fifty years old.
What does all this have to do with what’s happening in the Crimea now? Why did someone decide that we all should be interested in what Ukrainian soldiers in the Crimea talk about or who Aksenov or Jarosz are in order to understand these events? And what conclusion would a person who has just learned about the situation in the Crimea draw from an accusatory article about Aksenov? He is likely to suspect that there are criminal implications to all the Crimean protests. Unfortunately, the goal of modern media is to dump bad-smelling streams of information on us, so that we, together with the whole world, immerse ourselves in it, providing rising media ratings, ratings, ratings and giving us at the same time the illusion of complete awareness. All this is very similar to the parable about an elephant in the dark room. And by the way, social networks and free access to the information space do not improve the situation at all and even give rise to further anarchy.
Where is the way out?
Does this mean that the media are guilty of something? Of course not. In the format in which the media now exist, they can’t, and even we could not, work any other way. Does this mean that the media deliberately distort the available information? Some of them do, but a blatant lie is easy to reveal. I would say that a fundamental problem is a problem of emphasis and interpretation caused by philosophical constraints. Does this mean that the media should report less news and be limited to only official releases? Definitely not. Freedom of expression and opinion at the moment is an inviolable principle.
So where’s the solution? It seems to me that it is connected with the information consumers themselves, i.e. with all of us. Generally speaking, when the censorship century gave way to the age of relative freedom of information, then with the advent of modern technology an even more uncontrolled flow of information gushed on us so that we, hungry consumers, had a lot to digest. But after the saturation point there comes a new imperative – the time of information selection. Primary tools already exist, there are ways to filter information flows, but this process is still being formed. People in any case do not need to avoid information but to access its various sources as often as possible and to evaluate it critically, raising their cultural level as they do. They should focus, however, not on carping and being negative but on the possibility of positive creation. Then our consciousness will begin to change, many artificially created social problems will disappear and, consequently, our information requirements will also change. And if people lose interest in mayhem it will no longer be important for the media themselves. When public demand for objectivity rather than sensationalism comes to the fore then the currently existing information dump will be eliminated. Well, some societies will need not only an inquisitive public but also the will of national leaders.
In the meantime, think and analyze where you primarily gain your knowledge. How do you satisfy your hunger for information? By means of the major mass media ratings of your country? Then it’s high time for you to think about the objectivity of your views on … everything.
Epigraph – a parable
The parable about an elephant in a dark room
Three blind people, not knowing what an elephant actually looks like, began to touch one. And each one of them, having touched only one part of it, thought that he knew all about elephants. The one who had touched the elephant by the ear said: “The elephant is something big, wide, and soft as a good carpet.” Another one who had touched the elephant by its trunk said: “The elephant – neither more nor less than a huge hollow tube which sometimes makes a terrible roar.” The third one who had touched the elephant’s leg stated: “There is no doubt that the elephant is very powerful and strong and mostly like a column in the palace.”
The problem with all three of them is that they tried to grasp the whole by touching only one part of it, and each one of them has compared an elephant with familiar concepts and things. But, alas, knowledge is never a companion to the blind!