Saturday, July 21, 2012
Another mass shooting in the US. The media schedule for the next few days will be familiar. Roll out the blanket coverage, cast away all other stories. Experts, talking heads, politicians, moments of silence, a roll call of names. funerals. Lots of crying people. The repeated and mostly unanswered question "why?"
People find this sort of coverage distasteful. Watching the clips of snatched mobile phone footage rolling over and over through the night only adds to feeling of desolation.
I was reminded of this part of Charlie Brooker's Newswipe today, where a forensic psychologist says that the coverage of violence should be "localised and made as boring as possible" to avoid future massacres.
This made me wonder what localised and dulled down coverage would look like. Something like this? "An incident occurred last night in a place you care absolutely nothing about. An undisclosed number of people were casualties. We cannot reveal the identity of the instigator of this incident..." But then I realised I didn't have to imagine it.
Two weeks ago in Nigeria there was a massacre of around 70 people on the Jos Plateau. It didn't get a huge deal of coverage in the UK, but that's not really surprising.
I asked the Guardian correspondents on Twitter if the paper was going to cover it. One responded that there was only room for one African crisis at a time. "Unfortunately Jos will prob be in the news again soon" she said. To be fair to them I'm sure they were keen to cover it. But to the news desk, was the killing of scores of people in a corner of Nigeria too local, too dull?
In fact, the Nigerian media itself does its best to localise and dull-down coverage of massacres.
There are few really thorough investigations. You never really hear anything detailed about the perpetrators. Numbers of the dead are always wrong, usually played down. The victims are hardly ever individually named, unless they are somehow connected to politics. Indeed, if a journalist did go into detail and examine the situation on the ground, it is seen as "mischief making". It is assumed that the journalist, or whoever it is delivering the information, has an angle of their own to grind.
Some of this is to do with a natural fear of reprisals. But when you ask people about the causes of violence many shrug and say "it is all political" or they might say bigoted things about the ethnic groups responsible. It's a local problem, they say. It will never be solved, they say.
What can we say about this localising and dulling down? Is it showing us something? A terrifying thought: if you accept that killing is dull and is another locality's problem, are you quietly accepting that violence is legitimate?