How as a parent should you treat the news?


Unless you’ve been living somewhere with zero access to (any form of) media, you cannot help but be affected by the horrific images from Woolwich this week.  On Wednesday afternoon, Drummer, Lee Rigby, a member of our armed forces, was literally hacked to death on a “normal” London street.  This man’s crime?  Nothing more than being a serving member of our military and wearing a Help for Heroes T-Shirt.

Why?

Well the truth is none of us really knows, despite eminent psychologists and security experts giving insights into the mentality of Jihadists, the truth is we don’t really know: we’re not Jihadists.  To be honest even their closest family members probably have no idea how depraved these people have become.   I find the endless revolving door of media speculation tiring.  Since the inception of rolling news it seems that views that would have been expressed round the television, in pubs, offices and dinner parties, have become the mainstay of television news channels.  Even before much was known on Wednesday I saw opinion and conjecture being misrepresented as fact.

American Senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917 that “The first casualty when war comes, is truth”.  In 1975, distinguished journalist, Phillip Knightley wrote a book entitled The First Casualty: from the Crimea to Vietnam and whilst doing a war and media elective in 2002 at Uni I read the updated version that referenced the Falklands and in particular the misrepresentation of the Belgrano incident.  I believe that in this heavily mediated world, one where it’s on the news as soon as it’s happening and where we are constantly warned of all the dangers that are surrounding us at every turn ( a great series to watch is Peter Taylor’s Age of Terror http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/nol/newsid_7340000/newsid_7349900/7349983.stm?bw=bb&mp=wm&news=1&ms3=6&ms_javascript=true&bbcws=2); our media has entered a war footing: one where not only truth, but objective reasoning has become a tragic victim of the need to sensationalise, to cause panic and to propagate the us and them attitude prevalent throughout the world today.

What happened on Wednesday was a disgusting, heinous crime of the greatest magnitude and something which I personally find more terrifying than suicide bombers or bombs left in rubbish bins.  My reasoning for this is the personal nature of this attack.  This is not pressing a button on a phone or device to blow up anyone in the vicinity, it is a personal, intimate attack on someone just because of the job they do.  The very fact that this was carried out in broad daylight, in front of mother’s picking up this children from school, round the corner from an army barracks just serves to add to the revolting spectacle.

The idea of this crime and its reporting by the press as spectacle ( see Guy Debord) is what I find most disconcerting:

First we have the twisted, misled perpetrators who thought nothing of carrying out a crime such as this, in this way and then one of them walking over to by-standers with a bloodied meat cleaver and hands drenched in blood.  Then we had his mediated explanations of why they had to do this.

Then we have the media, their use of hyperbole in discussing events (it seems today that we live in a type of simulated (see Jean Baudrillard) reality where everything is shown to us and processed as if it were a film); then the showing of the footage where Michael Adebolajo justified the intensity of their attack (trying to say it was in solidarity for the attacks perpetrated against people in the Middle East) covered in blood, brandishing the clever that murdered a real human being, a father, a husband, a soldier.  Then came the countless front pages.  I came across this on twitter retweeted from an original post by Alex P-Day:

from a tweet by @alexpday

(@alexpday)

Every one of them showing sensationalising pictures of the deranged perpetrator, his bloodied hands and the murder weapon, or of a body on the ground.  Every one of them picking up on his lunatic tirade, or using emotive speech, and every one giving publicity to these two loons and their warped ideas about what it is to be a Muslim (don’t worry those of the Islamic faith, we the normal people of Britain know this is not an Islamic act, it is a lunatic’s crime).  Whilst at the same time fanning the flames of far-right propagandists, giving them the fuel to recruit new members to their nasty, misguided cause.

So what is a parent to do?  Do we shield our children from the news?  Surely to do so will create individuals with no real understanding of the world, the media or of a thing called news values.  Or do we allow our children to see warts and all the world as the mainstream press see’s it.  I believe that this will also have a negative bearing on how our children perceive the world — we should be frightened all the time, of everything.  What about a middle ground where we allow them to see the mainstream news but we also follow it up with debate and a discussion of news values and propaganda and then search out our own news (there is so much in the world that does not get reported in the mainstream press as it does not fit the current agenda, think of it like choosing which statistics to use to bolster or disprove a hypothesis); the Internet is such a huge place there are many ways to find out what is going on (yes everything has its own values and preferred readings but at  least this may provide a more open reflection of the world we live in).

This still leaves the question of how do we, as parents shield our children from images of cleaver wielding maniacs, determined to make a spectacle of themselves?  My only answer is this — don’t buy the papers and don’t watch the news until after your children are in bed if you are worried about what they are exposed to.

In conclusion, if you, like me, are disgusted by the way this terrible tragedy ( a personal one for Lee Rigby’s family (I have a daughter his son’s age and it made me cry on hearing about it when I looked at her)) has been reported by the press of our fair Isle then do something about it.   We, the public, have a far greater power than we believe we do.  Ultimately, the papers and TV stations only broadcast/ present these images because it sells, if we turn off the news, don’t buy their papers, etc then they will stop.  If we carry on buying the papers, watching the news, fanning the flames, taking no responsibility ourselves then reporting such as this will continue.

My greatest condolences are with Lee Rigby’s family and the families of the murders (for they are most likely not to blame for what their children have become)

 

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