Don’t Trust the Media

Photographers sometimes get a bad name, but it’s really the people who use the pictures who should get the blame. Sometimes there is sloppy reporting, sometimes it’s deliberate policy.  Even the big names in news – the BBC, CNN – have agendas (and some so-called news organisations have little else.)

Of course William Randolph Hearst never actually sent the famous telegram “You furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war!”, but it represents the attitude of those who run the media so well, that there is truth in it although it never happened. The bias isn’t always or just political, but also one that favours the sensational. And of course one that deifies ‘celebrity’, even if most of the celebrities are people I’ve never heard of, nor want to.

I’ve often come home from events I’ve photographed or been a part of and read the stories in the newspapers or watched the few seconds of TV coverage, and have seldom found the reports in the ‘mainstream’ media particularly accurate or convincing. Often it isn’t the journalists fault, and they are simply not given the time or space to cover things adequately, but there are clearly some things that a matter of deliberate distortion, as well as sometimes a complete failure to understand the issues.

Of course we all see things through our own eyes, from our particular viewpoint. We chose what and when to photograph (and I’ll confess that I’ve sometimes deliberately decided not to photograph something because I know how it would be used by the media to misrepresent an event.)

The proliferation of social media and the stories that people post on Facebook and in blogs etc, and perhaps particularly images have almost certainly lowered the standards of accuracy, particularly for the large media organisations who pick up the more trending of these stories and run with them, often apparently without applying the checks of  traditional reporting.  But just as anyone can now tell lies to the world, anyone can also pick up on the obvious deceptions and post about them.

This is something shown superbly in the photo-gallery and comments of Dr Dawg in Dawgs Blawg, Constructing “Venezuela” protests, a truly brilliant piece of work. As Dr Dawg writes “There is no flabby pretense of “objectivity” on the part of the international media when it comes to Venezuela.” While bloggers, web sites and news organisations are happily reporting bloody government repression recycling pictures taken at quite different events in Chile, Argentina, Egypt, Singapore, Greece and elsewhere, they seldom find time or space to  mention the country’s “substantial progress on a number of fronts for years now—a sharp reduction of dire poverty, major advances in education, reduced child mortality, and rapid steps taken towards gender equality, maternal health, and environmental protection.”

Dr Dawg’s favourite re-purposed image is an aerial view of a huge “religious procession, reincarnated as an anti-government protest.”  Since the article was published three new examples have been added to the list – and perhaps there will be more by the time you read it as the post Constructing “Venezuela” protests ends with:

Readers are invited to contribute more links to this international cavalcade of anti-government protest and government brutality in the make-believe land called “Venezuela.”

Of course there are protests in the real Venezuela, and some of the comments reflect this, though seldom in a way that would aid understanding of what is really happening there. Nor can you rely on the international media – or for that matter on the statements of the Venezuelan government or supporters such as the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign. If you really want to know what is happening you need to look at a wide range of different sources and to recognise the point of view embodied in each of them. Don’t trust the media; view them all critically.


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