Monday, July 25, 2005

What makes the news?

To answer my last stated question in the previous blog, no, it would seem I cannot let this all go quite yet. But I'm hoping that by getting this of my chest I at last can, if ruefully accepting that even if a majority agree with me, I doubt anything we write or do will ever change things.

Everyone depends on the media to some extent. Some of us may even need to engage with it proactively for more professional reasons, to assist in our communications aims (and let's face it, few of us do not have some reason to want to reach out beyond our immediate spheres of contact).

But as readers will gather, I am often troubled with the blurring of what used to be more clearly defined lines between news, facts, opinion and entertainment in how information is served up to us. Too often the serious is sensationalised, the complex trivialised, and in-depth questions sacrificed in favour of quick opinion.

In the wake of the tragic, mistaken shooting of this poor young Brazilian, I this morning turned on my TV to be subjected to a 'news' story from the house of one of his extended family members in Brazil, with footage of sad, solemn kids throwing a ball to each other. They have lost a family member, and I presume a close and much-loved one. But I just wonder if the scene I witnessed was the little ones' idea, and what its purpose was.

From the same report I also question the pride being shown in the 'scoop' of a cousin making his financial claim 'here, live'. Again I must ask: did he come up with this all on his own? Or was the thought planted to keep the story running?

I feel that too many of these, and so many other so-called news items, are now unrepresentative, staged theatre by those who should be tasked only to report, and by 'adding' in this way to the story serve neither it nor the subsequent circumstances well.

But the authorities are complicit too. They play along with all these ratings-fests with ever-more stage-managed victims'/perpetrators' photocalls, with either an involved individual or a mouthpiece trotting out words I often doubt anyone closely involved to the events has ever articulated.

Our thoughts therefore become shaped only by what we are served up, because it is an inevitability (one I am happy to accept) that we do not get to share in the thoughts and actions of those who have the understandable desire to maintain a dignified silence on what is ultimately a very personal affair.

So it is those who make the most noise who get the most notice. And into whose hands does that play, I wonder?

The fog of war

It was very dark. And I was very tired. It had been a long day, on top of a long week. All I wanted to do was get some sleep. But they said they needed me, and I didn't want to let them down. I knew the rules, and had had them drummed into me ad nauseam. And I also knew roughly what to expect, as there had been some extensive training provided before I was allowed to be let loose. But when the gloom and silence were replaced in an instant by a cacophony of strobing, flicking lights, flashes and a bewildering array of sounds, all, it seemed, aimed at me, I felt I had no choice to react... and pulled the trigger. And stop it all did. Trouble was, it had stopped because I had dealt with not only those aiming at me, but those amongst whom they had been hiding, and those who were on my side. And boy, were my kids miffed. We were that close to getting to the next level, and it was bad enough that I had not only taken out my squad, but the number of negative points for the civilian casualties had put us back to the beginning of the game.

I have never been in such a situation beyond an XBox, and never want to be. Even in a civilian sense. Like my unfortunate namesake, Tony Martin, I have never been confronted by intruders in my own home, much less in the dark, and with the frightening knowledge that I'm on my own, there are more of them than me, they have got past major defences and despite a lot of noise are still coming in my direction, probably not to shake hands and bid me goodnight. At such a point, dealing with the legal system subsequently probably seems a less pressing concern.

It's not a defence of course, for deliberate, premeditated acts of revenge or cruelty, but I do have to ask myself if it's asking a lot of those put in the firing line, or who we put in harm's way on our behalf, to then have their actions in extreme situations micro-analysed and judged so quickly and confidently post-event. Especially when such analysis, based on much group-debated, studied hindsight, is weighed equally with that of an individual caught in an instant.

I started this before the weekend thinking of other, primarily military, events around the world. I finish it at the end looking much closer to home. And it is with a heavy heart. A young Brazilian man is dead. A few media organs that I recall were trumpeting his death as a terrorist are now giving voice to those who refer to the 'blunder' of an innocent's shooting (with things made.. foggy.. when we're talking Semtex waistcoats). Or worse, and I think unfairly, his murder.

In the circumstances, I'd say I'd call it a mistake. A horrible, tragic mistake. Especially when we have some slick 'spokespersons' calling it a 'shoot to kill' policy. Seems more like a 'shoot before someone may blow more people in the vicinity up' policy. I'd love to see what these guys' smug plan would be if stuck 100m meters away from someone who is possibly about to shred the neighbourhood. Unlike most, and most especially these comfortable spokespersons (How DO they get themselves on prime time? Who invites them?), the officers in question have gone into harm’s way on a defensive basis, albeit in this case wrongly. I talked recently about cock-ups. This was different. It was one as a result of split-second reaction and not clinical premeditation, which is key. And they did wait. It was not a sniper's bullet from afar. This seems the least best of a bad job. If it could have been done any other way they will have to live with it. If turns out there was ineptitude or malice they need to bear the consequences. As professionals that goes with the job. Some poor guy pulled the trigger who I am currently pretty sure will live with that error in humility for the rest of his life. A commander who gave him the authority may now be staring into space wishing that in this case they had been better informed. But when there is no time, things seldom conform to the ideal. But one thing is for sure, there are those with no such feelings who truly bear the blame. And far from sharing the sadness, they are revelling in having stirred the pot of anger and hate.

I'm not advocating the fog of war being used as a forgive-all defence, but in the circumstances I'd say we need to cut some slack. Especially until it's all been assessed. And even more so by those who they are seeking to defend. I presume all these media commentators use the Tube too.

Wow. I hope that I can soon get back to writing a blog in a lighter vein. It's a messed up world, and it's pretty clear which species is messing it up. Many of us are doing so unintentionally and passively through ignorance and laziness. But some just seem bent on getting it all over with by actively speeding the process up even quicker through deliberate, direct action, in pursuit of... now what is it they want again?