Thursday, September 18, 2008
Are we desensitising our readers?
It can be quite dehumanising working in the newsroom, where the availability of news - often the more harrowing the better - determines whether you have a good front page or not.
When I made the decision to choose journalism as a career over research, I had in mind the idea that I could make a difference by what I write and by joining the newsroom, I will have greater impact. But after being here for just a couple of months, I begin to realise that news today, not just in Singapore, is rife with macabre reports.
Are we as journalists, desensitising our readers with our constant flow of negative reports. Are we creating a humanitarian fatigue among our readers to the point where they no longer want to read about starvation in Africa or human rights abuse in Myanmar, or protests against forced evictions in China?
I was reading a book review by Stephen Wolgast on a book called "My Brother's Keeper" which tracks the emergence of human rights photography. Wolgast brought up the same issues - What is the function of photographs and what is the role of photographers?
Wolgast sited examples of photographers whose work "shocked audience[s] and led to social reform".
Should that not be what us journalists aspire to as well?
Susie Linfield, photography scholar, also brought up a dilema faced by photographers that we reporters also encounter - how to show suffering without demeaning the subject. For reporters, how do we write about someone's plight without taking away his/her dignity as a human being, with a God given right to be seen as a person and not an object of pity?
In the end, Wolgast contends that "instead of making us immune to the suffering of others, the proliferation of images has made us more aware of inequality in the world".
I hope he's right. And I hope it's the same for news. It is at least heartening to see that the youth in Singapore are at least more active in overseas volunteer activities today. But whether it springs from a genuine desire to make a difference, or the glam factor of being a do-gooder in a third world country, is another story altogether.
For the most part, Singaporeans are happy to observe and acknowledge poverty from a distance. We feel sorry for a moment, shed a tear or two, and then proceed to shed many more dollars at a spa, restaurant or boutique to soothe our aching conscience. After all, if we're not buying these products, those poor child labourers will be out of a job.
Picture source: http://www.ac-nancy-metz.fr/enseign/languesLP/anglais/dr_hom_child_work.htm