How Do We Measure Bad News In 2019?
In terms of global news, I’d say last week was a biggie.
Nearly two million locals protested on the streets of Hong Kong to appose a controversial extradition bill, the risk of further massacres in the increasingly destabilised Sudan continued to rise, the current President of the United States was accused – for the sixteenth time but who’s counting – of sexually assaulting a credible, critically-acclaimed Elle advice columnist in the ’90s, and a homophobic rugby player asked his comparatively poor fans to give him money in order to fund his egomania. And that’s just off the top of my head.
Unintentionally, the events of last week became an opportunity for us to examine what we, as consumers of the news, actually care about and what we deem worthy of our attention. We are living through such a bizarre moment in history where the coexistence of things like climate change, large-scale humanitarian crises in places like Syria and Yemen, and the global repercussions of American politics means that a story that would have otherwise been a defining moment in culture ten years ago might not even make the front page in 2019.
There are of course some explanations for the disparity in attention between stories. An article published on Pakistani news channel News One explained why the Sudanese massacres have been relegated to the margins of mainstream media, “Black death in general is rarely cause for global recognition because much of the world sees genocide in Africa as a natural topographical occurrence.” This is a depressing truth. Also to be filed under Depressing Truths: The re-build of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, backed by the world’s most powerful billionaires, was able to raise over $1 billion before the smoke had even cleared, but the rest of France remains in the throes of crippling protests over rising social inequality of which the government has said there is “not enough money” to solve. A distressing image of an emaciated polar bear who had trekked into a Siberian town, more than 800 kilometres from its natural habitat, in search of food as a result of climate change was almost completely devoid of mainstream attention, but a Time Magazine cover of President Trump that read ‘My Whole Life Is A Bet’ was hard to avoid. And let’s not even begin to unpack how that cover was cleared for publishing less than *48 hours* after E. Jean Carroll, a writer who has been a household name in the United States for over twenty years, came forward with fresh allegations of sexual assault against Trump that literally meet the legal definition of rape (!!).
It’s worth acknowledging that energy flows where our attention goes; meaning that New Zealand and Australia’s relentless coverage of the chauvinistic homophobe who raised half a million dollars for his own pity-party potentially only aided that man’s campaign (I’m intentionally not mentioning his name in this article – let’s not feed the beast shall we?). Which only makes me wonder what would’ve happened if that same coverage been afforded to a cause like the severely-underfunded Whanau Ora program that works to ensure Māori families have the support to care for their Tamaraki.
All of this begs the following to be answered: Has our barometer for “shock” changed? How severe are the impacts of race and politics on global headlines? And is it possible that we’ve become immune to bad news entirely?