The Stroumboulopouli

The Stroumboulopouli

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Media: How far is TOO far?

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But how far is too far when it comes down to obtaining and broadcasting or publishing these images?

I am sure that by now many have viewed the most recent episode in the ongoing saga of Britney Spears. In case you missed it, as a private familial situation spiralled out of control and the police where summoned to her home, a media circus began to erupt. Photographers, camera operators and news helicopters were all trying to obtain images of the unfolding events.

One could argue that celebrities such as Ms. Spears, Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, depend upon the media and paparazzi. If no one is seeking them out, then they are no longer on the “it” list. Their relationship with the media is truly a double edge sword. Yes, the media will be there to benefit them in the good times. But then they will also be quite willing to document the bad times as well. Personally, I have never been a fan of Ms. Spears and I admit that in the past I have snickered as she was mocked in the court of public opinion. But clearly this woman is in need of help. Yes, she is in the public eye, but are there not some events that should be left untouched by the media?

How would we feel if our personal unravelling was documented for all to see? Do we as a society contribute to this problem by purchasing the publications found in the check-out lane of the grocery store? If there were not a demand for these images, would the media circus even have happen in the first place? I appreciated the “Paris Free” zone established by The Hour last season. Perhaps a “Britney Free” zone will be featured this season.

Of course the glare of the media spotlight is not limited to celebrities. As humans we are typically curious about the events that surround us and the media is quite willing to satisfy that curiosity using the journalistic rule of “if it bleeds, it leads”. With each passing year, I find this concept to be less appealing and often distasteful. This weekend I was disappointed in the editorial decision of a Toronto newspaper for their choice of the front page photo used to illustrate the story surrounding a candlelit vigil held in memory of a 14 year-old murder victim. The photo was a close-up of her obviously grieving younger brother. Yes, the photo may be worth a thousand words and clearly demonstrates the loss felt by the family. But I also believe that there are some “images” that should be left unseen.


Anonymous said...

excellent article.

the media has no conscience.

Mich said...

I think it's a pretty sweeping generalization to say that the media has no conscience... just like not every celebrity is insane, not every member of the media is soulless. There are bad apples in every lot.

The media is caught between a rock and a hard place. With today's 24 hour news cycle, a media outlet is damned if they do AND damned if they don't. The media outlets covering the recent murder in Toronto are being lambasted for covering it and using photos/footage/interviews that tell the story effectively. If the same outlets didn't have coverage, they would be accused of not covering important stories in the city. So no matter what they do, the media is screwed. They can't win.

Thankfully, in Canada, the sensationalism is definitely more muted, and we don't see the insane wall-to-wall coverage as we do in the States. Sure, it comes up from time to time, but for the most part, it's just not there. This is particularly true when it comes to celebrities. Isn't there a running joke in Canada that celebrities need to wear nametags to be recognised on the street?

Don't get me wrong, I definitely see the problems that this causes. I will definitely not say that the media is innocent in all of this. There are news outlets that thrive on sensationalising everything. But there are other media outlets that do not.

I also don't think we can make this just a media problem. There is obviously a demand for this sensationalised coverage of the news. I think a lot of this comes from the insatiable need in society to know every minute detail about the private lives of strangers. I think if society as a whole stopped caring so much about it, media outlets wouldn't feel the pressure to cover things like Spear's mental health or whatever the latest scandal is.

Tracy said...

A grief stricken child who's lost his sister splashed over the front page is intrusive but also maybe cathartic. Given the victim's young age, the timing of the murder and that so many people have adopted the victim as 'their' daughter, sister or friend contibuted to the frenzy. Hopefully the family can now rebuild their lives privately.

Canadian media tends to be more measured. To relate this to The Hour and the Strombo Show? I heard the interview between Bif Naked and George on Sunday's Strombo Show where Bif revealed her recent breast cancer diagnosis. The conversation was hopeful, candid and relevatory. She shared her experience - on her terms in her own unique way.

As a daughter of a mother who died of breast cancer at a young age I listened happily because that 10 mintues of frankness will help more people than wearing a pink ribbon ever could. On The Hour the news was reported, not sensationalized. The context and tone of the radio interview was well portrayed.

Is Bif as famous as Brit? No, but I doubt she'd receive the same privacy she'll likely be granted as she has her surgery, chemo and so on if she was famous on a comparable level in the US. Her every move would be stalked.

I concur with Mich. If we as a society stop consuming tabloid media hopefully this interest in celebs will subside. Would I put money down that it will happen soon? Nope. That's one bet I wouldn't be willing to make.

Anonymous said...

That comment last night on The Hour about Briteney being mother of the year. George is no better than the other media-ites.

Anonymous said...

not really sure what this has to do with The Hour

A. C. said...

The Hour is part of the CND media scene, whether some people care to admit it or not. Just because Strombo doesn't sit behind a desk like Mansbridge every nite, does not mean he/the show are not part of the media.

If it bleeds it leads? Okay, maybe not all of George's topics bleed like they do on the nightly news, but they are current. This is totally about any newsy show/paper/magazine. The Hour is, in its own way, a newsy show.

Mich said...

anon @4:50 asked what this had to do with The Hour...

Well, it has a lot to do with The Hour. Even if it's not considered "hard news", The Hour is still a part of the same media this post is discussing. In fact, last season The Hour took a stand against the whole Paris Hilton debacle, and banned any coverage of all that stupidity. Maybe if more shows did that, maybe the demand for celebrity "news" (better to just call it what it is, gossip and innuendo)would go down and news outlets would feel less pressure to report that drivel, because as I said before... right now, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. It doesn't give them much choice.

carol s said...

I find it distasteful as well, Steph.
Funerals should be off limits. Unless they are invited by the family.

There are becoming fewer and fewer sources for news. News that fits my needs, anyway. I prefer the raw and brief story. If I want more info, I will research it myself.

That is pretty much how I roll when it comes to celebrity news as well. I couldn't care less about the gossip, who is screwing who and all the other bullshit....

Barbara said...

I have friends who work in media and they are not a bad bunch. Like Mich said bad apples can be found in the bunch.
I also have friends that read the gossip rags... and they are for the most part pretty nice too.
If a paper or a media source offends you could do what my dad would do... letter to the editor.

David said...

I think the word "image" in the last part of the article says it all even though it doesn't fit with the title, it saying to me the things we can see and the things we do see. If the word, duh comes into mind, then yes it's obvious that its like that.But the point I'm trying to make is, what would media be like if we didn't have it? Well we'd be fighting war after war if it weren't for media. Yes, the ariticle is trying to say "too is said in media" but its meerly to point out the great the things about voicing out opinions and differentiating {can't spell it} ideas.

Mr. Cake said...

A really thoughtful article - and well done for tackling the issue of the photograph at the funeral.

Once you set aside the moral debate, which will rumble for eternity, we get to the thorny and more technical issue of consent.

If you wanted to feature a child in a TV show or print their photograph in a local newspaper, permission would be sought from the child's parents before publication. This would be the case regardless of whether the setting was public or private space, and makes good common sense.

Yet, for some reason, when a photograph is destined for print at the national level, it is considered acceptable to publish a picture of an obviously distressed child alongside an article naming the family, without the need for permission.

I may be missing something rather obvious here but this seems to make no sense. Shouldn't the rules of consent be tightened to ensure the child's picture and identifying information could not be printed together without permission? Or are these little details considered dispensable in such circumstances?

Would make an interesting topic for The Hour maybe...