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JOURNALISM: THE INVISIBLE WORLD

 
 
Setanta
 
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 08:33 am
I was listening to a radio program on the coverage of the slaughter in Rwanda almost 10 years ago, and it occurred to me that we are fooling ourselves with the claim that the world has shrunk due to news media, that there is anything like a global village. Romeo Dallaire has said that Darfur in the Sudan is Rwanda in slow motion. But would we even be paying attention to Darfur if Rwanda had not happened? Would Americans even had noticed if the Sudan were not seen as suspect in the era of a "war on terror?"

Long ago, in an early thread on Darfur, i commented that the Sudan was a failed state, and that they had been in a state of civil war for more than 20 years in the south of the nation. A member here who has identified himself as black responded to my comment by suggesting that i didn't know what i was talking about because Darfur is in the west of the Sudan. I pointed out that the government in the Sudan has fought a civil war against Christians and Animists in the south of the Sudan since the mid-1980s. He seemed uninterested. I suspect that it did not come to his attention so long as the Sudanese who were killing one another were wearing the desert robes of Arabs (whether Muslims or Christians or Animists), and that the tragedy of the failed state in the Sudan only came to his attention when the fighting impinged on people who are recognizably black Africans. (Although any of the Sudanese, whether they wear the robes of the desert or not, are blacks by a merely superficial description.)

So i was lead to question whether or not mass media has really made the world a "smaller" place, whether or not there truly is a global village. Most of the Europeans we see at this site are well-informed, but i question whether any great proportion of Europeans ever knew who Alberto Fujimori was, or where El Salvador is. Do they know who Alfredo Stroesner was, or where to find Paraguay on a map? I suspect that most Americans don't, and the United States takes far greater interest (with good reason) in Latin America than it does in other regions of the world. Consider India and China, wherein nearly a third of the world's population resides. Do they know who Manuel Noriega is, can they find Guatamala or Belize on a map? Most news agencies have a single bureau and a single correspondent in Africa, if they have any at all (many broadcast outlets and newspapers have no permanent representation in Africa), and i suspect that there are few bureaus and reporters in South America other than those from the United States and England, who have commercial interests there.

Do you know where Azerbaijan is, and did you know that Azerbaijan fought a war with Armenia just a little over ten years ago? Had you ever heard of Uzbekistan before the United States invaded Afghanistan, and could you find it on a map now? Do you know where Ulan Bator is, and why it is important to many millions of people?

Have modern communications truly "shrunk" our world, or is this only a conceit of the well-informed? Is it not possible that even in the industrial and affluent "West," people everywhere retain the village mentality of ages past? What do you think?
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 08:48 am
I probably agree with you Set.


I think thr POSSIBILITY of being well informed about pretty much anywhere is there.

It is truly stunning what sources of really quality information the most cursory attempt, just on the net alone, is able to unearth.


Yet, I am definitely among those who do not follow up in any way widely.


For instance, I have a news digest for the whole of Eur Asia that appears every week in my inbox....full of detailed info about everywhere from all the Istans to India.

How often do I read it? Only when I am in a really questing mood. The same with sundry other news sources I subscribe to.

I think, by and large, with major exceptions, of course, we pretty much comply with what the cynical journalistic rule of thumb about how events pale in interest the farther away they are from our spheres of interest.

Look at interest in, and reaction to, Darfur vs Kosovo etc.


And time and self protective denial are a factor too.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 08:50 am
Yes, I think there's a difference between potential (what's there for the people who look) and the reality (what information people passively receive).
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parados
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 08:58 am
What is this? A geography test? Now that you have found Belize can you tell us its currency?

"Information overload" comes to mind. Access to all the information doesn't mean it becomes relevant or worthy of remembering. All the information is there if you look for it but it doesn't give anyone more time in the day or reduce their day to day needs and wants. The world may have shrunk but human beings haven't gotten any larger.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 08:59 am
That's a good point about the potential of being informed and the reality of being informed. I was at first and mostly motivated by considering how much media coverage Africa gets. I know my own situation is different from that of many others, because i've studied geography and history all my life, and the very first time i heard of Charles Taylor, i was interested, and knew where Liberia is, and why the capital is called Monrovia. Being well informed has a cumulative effect, too--i once knew a gentleman from Liberia who had left the country to avoid being drafted into Charles Taylor's army. That was almost 20 years ago, but i was immediately interested, and therefore learned a good deal more about the tribal character of Liberia as a result. In university, i had a roommate one year who was from Rhodesia--his goal in life was to assassinate Ian Smith. So long before Zimbabwe became Zimbabwe, i had begun to inform myself about it.

But what about a plumber from Dusseldorf, or a truck driver from Tulsa, or a farmer near Shanghai, or nurse in Karachi? Do they pay attention? Do we have any reason to expect that they should?

Once again, a good point about the potential and the reality. Do either of you think the potential means that the world actually will "shrink" in terms of awareness at some time in the foreseeable future?
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 09:02 am
Not necessarily. Humans like their chunks. I think the kind of wide and deep knowledge you're talking about is anti-chunk, and not that many people have the tolerance for it.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 09:04 am
There will be a test next week, Parados.

Information overload does not, in my never humble opinion, justify ignoring disasters such as Rwanda or Darfur. In the case of Africa, i suspect racism. Nothing much may have been accomplished in Bosnia and Kosovo until NATO became involved, but we all knew about it, and in detail, shortly after Serbia attacked Croatia and Slovenia in 1991. I've met people who still don't know why Rwanda is significant, what continent it is on, or what happened there. Information overload is a factor, surely, as is the issue of proximity which Miss Wabbit mentioned--but mass slaughter is mass slaughter no matter where it occurs, and i think people ought to notice such things, regardless of information overload or proximity.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 09:04 am
More on chunking:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chunking_(psychology)
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 09:08 am
Chunking is an interesting concept, and i'd not encountered that before. In my own case, i used to be able to rely upon an excellent memory, and had a huge, single volume encyclopedia upon which i relied (don't know what became of it). However, i was thinking today that the internet has made me lazy--i just need to remember the outline, and a few key names and places, and i can quickly find what i need.

But to me, what is important is that i do look. I guess my method would be the antithesis of "chunking," though. I go for breadth, and once relied upon libraries for depth, and now use the internet for that.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 09:14 am
Setanta wrote:
That's a good point about the potential of being informed and the reality of being informed. I was at first and mostly motivated by considering how much media coverage Africa gets. I know my own situation is different from that of many others, because i've studied geography and history all my life, and the very first time i heard of Charles Taylor, i was interested, and knew where Liberia is, and why the capital is called Monrovia. Being well informed has a cumulative effect, too--i once knew a gentleman from Liberia who had left the country to avoid being drafted into Charles Taylor's army. That was almost 20 years ago, but i was immediately interested, and therefore learned a good deal more about the tribal character of Liberia as a result. In university, i had a roommate one year who was from Rhodesia--his goal in life was to assassinate Ian Smith. So long before Zimbabwe became Zimbabwe, i had begun to inform myself about it.

But what about a plumber from Dusseldorf, or a truck driver from Tulsa, or a farmer near Shanghai, or nurse in Karachi? Do they pay attention? Do we have any reason to expect that they should?

Once again, a good point about the potential and the reality. Do either of you think the potential means that the world actually will "shrink" in terms of awareness at some time in the foreseeable future?





Zimbabwe has always been "close" for me....because of having refugees from there as friends in the seventies, who later went back to very high office indeed, once the white minority rule was overturned. I have no doubt that those people have been murdered by the now degenerate beast ruling there.


South Africa is "close" because of the number of ANC people we met and sang to and hosted when we had a choir....and because a white friend moved over there to work for the ANC prior to the end of white rule. Her stories are hair curling....


Liberia, Sierra Leone and a number of other African countries are now on my personal "close" map, too, because of working with refugees from there, and struggling to make sense of the things some of them do, to their kids and each other, because of the years of unspeakable trauma they have suffered.




So....my world is shrinking as Oz takes in more and more disparate refugee groups.....the same thing happened with Chileans after the coup against Allende, and Nicaraguans fed up with the right wing terrorists under Reagan, and Vietnamese and Cambodians....and Afghanis, and Iranians (especially Bahai) and Iraqis.



So...my world shrinks re non western countries as a whole range of interests and work necessities determine.

I suspect a similar process happens with anyone working with traumatised people, as refugees will always figure largely in that group.


But for the rest? I don't know.


I think there are opposing forces of desire to deny and not be besieged by horrors, and interest and a feeling of NEED to understand more as things seem to spiral into madness.


Perhaps some Americans learn geography as your country invades others?
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 09:25 am
dlowan wrote:
Perhaps some Americans learn geography as your country invades others?


That was a wicked shot . . . good one, Cunning Coney.

Proximity in time has some meaning, too, though. We've invaded every continent on earth except the antipodes, and in Dubya Dubya Two, we briefly overran Australia (at least the Port Darwin area) as friends. Time moves on and leaves so many of us behind, and we remember what younger people have never known. When i was a boy, veterans of the Spanish War (1898) were honored in the Fourth of July parade, and my grandfather and other veterans of "the Great War" formed the color guard and marched in uniform. Recently, the Canadians have gotten worked up over Vimy Ridge, a battle the Canadians fought 90 years ago in France. In the First World War, only Australia suffered a casualty rate as high as the Canadians, and yet young Canadians have seemingly only become aware of the Canadian participation in the war since the big deal being made about Vimy Ridge, and the renovation of the Canadian memorial there. They made a big deal of it 15 years ago for the 75th anniversary, too, but this was a bigger deal.

Do young Ozzians know about the Great War? Do they know how very many casualties the Australians suffered, that the English used the Aussies and Canucks as shock troops? Have they ever heard of Gallipoli?

I don't think it is necessarily so that if we forget the past we are doomed to repeat it. It seems we repeat the past even when we know about--witness Vietnam and Iraq. But i do think that when we forget the past, and when we ignore or are ignorant of the wider world, we lose entire universes of comprehension.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 09:38 am
Setanta wrote:
dlowan wrote:
Perhaps some Americans learn geography as your country invades others?


That was a wicked shot . . . good one, Cunning Coney.

Proximity in time has some meaning, too, though. We've invaded every continent on earth except the antipodes, and in Dubya Dubya Two, we briefly overran Australia (at least the Port Darwin area) as friends. Time moves on and leaves so many of us behind, and we remember what younger people have never known. When i was a boy, veterans of the Spanish War (1898) were honored in the Fourth of July parade, and my grandfather and other veterans of "the Great War" formed the color guard and marched in uniform. Recently, the Canadians have gotten worked up over Vimy Ridge, a battle the Canadians fought 90 years ago in France. In the First World War, only Australia suffered a casualty rate as high as the Canadians, and yet young Canadians have seemingly only become aware of the Canadian participation in the war since the big deal being made about Vimy Ridge, and the renovation of the Canadian memorial there. They made a big deal of it 15 years ago for the 75th anniversary, too, but this was a bigger deal.

Do young Ozzians know about the Great War? Do they know how very many casualties the Australians suffered, that the English used the Aussies and Canucks as shock troops? Have they ever heard of Gallipoli?

I don't think it is necessarily so that if we forget the past we are doomed to repeat it. It seems we repeat the past even when we know about--witness Vietnam and Iraq. But i do think that when we forget the past, and when we ignore or are ignorant of the wider world, we lose entire universes of comprehension.



Ah, well.......I think many, many Australians learned geography with wars, too. I suspect it is very common.

There is great resurgence of interest in WW I amongst young Australians.....and a huge sense of the horrors these poor young men suffered. Of COURSE they have heard of Gallipoli! The awfulness there is remembered in our version of Veteran's Day....ANZAC day...it commemorates that campaign, and is a national holiday.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Apr, 2007 10:15 am
I ought to have known that, too, Miss Wabbit.

I sometimes feel that i live in a unique world in which history and geography inform me, but that almost no one else cares. In the 1980s, i read an article in a military magazine about Adrianople, which contended that it was the most "fought over" city in the history of the world. Long before Constantinople fell to the Osmanli Turks (1453), the Turks had invaded Europe. They took Adrianople from the Bulgars and Serbs again and again, only to lose it to them again. It was then that i went to the library (no informative internet for the lazy yet), and learned about the Serbs and the Bulgars and their centuries long struggle against the Turks. Prior to that, i had a rather ill-informed view of the Serbs as an heroic little people who defied the Austrians in arms in the events which sparked the First World War. But further reading lead me to understand that an inflated view of their own importance and a cancerous nationalism was responsible for the Serb attitude in two other Balkan wars before the First World War, and that the Serb state was responsible in a very real way for the Black Hand, members of whom assassinated the Archduke and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914.

In 1991, i saw a video clip which appalled me, and which so seared itself on my memory that i can close my eyes and see it again today. It showed a fat Serb, with a huge beer gut, wearing an Hawaiian shirt and khaki slacks, with an AK47 in his hands. A wounded Slovene lay on the ground in front of him, apparently pleading for his life. The Serb leers this horrifying grin at him, and empties the clip of the rifle into his victim.

In 1389, the Turks defeated a Bulgar and Serbian army in Kosovo. The Serbs obsess over this defeat, and cherish a deep and abiding hatred of the Turks as a result. Seven years later, at Nicopolis, a Franco-German army which had quixotically marched to the aid of the Bulgars was nearly wiped out by the Turks in the course of the same campaigns which the Turks were waging to surround and cut off Constantinople, and to conquer Europe. But the French and the Germans don't cherish a centuries long hatred of the Turks as a result (and the French at the battle were very nearly wiped out). I acknowledge that the French and Germans could march away (those who managed to escape), and forget about the Turks, while the Bulgars and the Serbs still had centuries of warfare with the Turks ahead of them. But the Bulgars, who were overrun and occupied by the Turks, until the Russians "liberated" them in 1829, don't cherish the same unreasoning and seemingly eternal hatred of the Turks as a result--but the Serbs seem completely unable to let go of the past.

At the end of the Great War, the Serbs and the Czechs sent their armies out to snap up huge chunks of Hungary and Bulgaria. The French also sent their armies to eastern Europe, and the Czechs and Serbs had to give up a lot of their conquests. The Czechs however, did not cherish lasting resentments because of this, but the Serbs seem never to be able to let go of their vision of "Greater Serbia." The Serbs were resentfully content to accept the creation of Yugoslavia, and figured they'd dominate. Of course, the Croatians had different ideas, and many of them allied themselves with the Nazis in the Second World War, and likely because they wanted to overcome the Serbs. Dag and Habibi once criticized me here for remarks about the Serbs and their nationalist attitudes, but i find it ironic that Habibi has himself recently reported on the resurgence of Serb nationalists in their elections. This i believe is a case of calling a spade a spade.

When the Bosnian war began, the ideological leader of the Bosnian Serbs was Radovan Karadzic, a psychiatrist in Sarajevo. He carefully crafted propaganda to rouse the Bosnia Serbs, and to gain the sympathy and support of Serbia itself in their attempt to absorb Bosnia for the Serbs. He didn't call the Bosnians Bosnians, and he didn't call them Muslims, he called them Turks, and the term stuck. To the Serbs of the 1990s, they were fighting the Turks all over again, and the right-wing Serb nationalists became hysterically infuriated when the war moved into Kosovo--600 hundred years had not been long enough to slake their rage. Frankly, none of it has surprised me, but it apparently took the horrible slaughter at Srebrenica in 1995 for the rest of the world to sit up and take notice.

People just seem so blissfully ignorant, and it often appears that people don't want to know what horrors persist in our world.

Also in the late 1980s, i read in a military magazine about Iraq's arsenal of North Korean made Scud missiles. Anyone ought to have known, the Iraqis and the Persians lobbed missiles at one another throughout their eight year war. Hell, it seems Reagan gave Saddam his chemical weapons--but so many Americans act as though this were all news very recently. I also learned then that Brazil and China are big players in the international medium-range ballistic missile business. I suspect that this will also be news to many people. Come folks, this ain't rocket science. (For the clueless, that was ironic humor.)
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Paaskynen
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Apr, 2007 04:07 am
Hi Setanta,

I can answer all the questions in your initial post without resorting to Wikipedia or an atlas, so I guess I uphold the epithet of Euro-academic. Still, I basically have to thank my secondary school education and the hunger for knowledge installed by my teachers (You shall not stop learning until the day you stop feeling a little more ignorant every day).

As a child I also possessed an above average memory, and I still believed it was possible to know everything there was to know, but now with my metal frame weakening I rely more and more on the Internet. I have not stopped feeling more stupid every day, but I have stopped dwelling on it too much. So it goes.

I would like to believe that everyone knows pretty much everything I consider general knowledge, but when confronted with my students I realise every day that this is not the case and I despair to think of the image of the world the less intelligent majority of the population has and I understand why politicians do not bother anymore with explanations, but throw sound bites and chemically bleached smiles around.

We can make fun of the lack of geographic knowledge displayed by US students in different researches, but I stopped laughing when television shows revealed that many Dutch tourists on holiday in Europe were unable to point out their holiday destination on a map, some could not even find their own country! It was very embarrassing.
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Paaskynen
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Apr, 2007 04:32 am
I just read a rant by Michael1, which definitely identifies him as belonging to the less intelligent majority I mentioned earlier.
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