Sunday, 19 May 2013

Opinion: The Media on Social Issues

This post was based on a discussion group I ran at my school's Amnesty International group (thanks all who came by the way) . It was exploring the way the media portrayed various social issues, what results were gained from these, and how it could help promote the rights of refugees by looking at four different social movements in the recent years. 

Rape in India: The movement was the heaviest in Delhi, December 2012 after the violent rapes, gang rapes and murders of women and very young girls. This movement is still continuing and fluctuating when new shocking cases arrive. Even liking humour pages such as 'Indian Parent Memes' can give you pictures regarding the movement clogging up your facebook newsfeed. Outside of social media, this movement has had many protests including one to boycott India’s republic day, and is raising awareness and coverage of rapes, and putting pressure on the government for the punishment of rapists. I visited India during January, and although the movement had past its peak it was still in the news, I even found a magazine with pull-out booklet on rape cases which haven't received media coverage. Although it is disgusting, with the rapes of very young girls, people in India are removing 'victim-blaming' and 'she was asking for it' views and there is new tighter legislation on rapes. This issue is only really getting that much attention in India, and with people who have connections to India (like myself), but there is still a way we can help. If we tighten our legislation, and support the victim and punish the rapist, we can set a point of comparison for the Indian government and people, we can spread the word to make sure people have more understanding views. Rape is an issue which is recently getting people up in arms when it has been going on for ages, and all it took was one shock event to gain media coverage. 

Bullying in Australia:  Another issue that’s been going on for ages but had a real moment in the spotlight was bullying. As you may remember, this video from an Australian school went viral in mid 2011, features a smaller kid bullying a larger kid who’s had enough and slams the bully on the ground. This started a lot of news reports and calls for tighter restrictions on bullying in schools, especially for cyberbullying (even though this was physical violence). Everyone seemed shocked that this type of thing was happening while I, and quite a number of students, noted that bullying happens in schools happens regularly and has been doing so for so long that it is likely to have started when schools do. This news even reached the US which is great for awareness for an issue going on under our noses, but it could be misleading if you were not aware that the smaller kid was bullying the larger one for a long time before hand. This video had the effect it did for a number of reasons: it was one of the more extreme cases of bullying, it hit close to home for the Australians, and we all love seeing an underdog standing up for themselves, Although this was very impacting and the media was calling on schools to take action, none of the results of the campaign have stuck around to have a noticeable effect in the current day. 

Kony 2012: You all should remember this from last year, another video that went viral. It has a crazy initial response, everyone sharing the video, changing their profile pictures, taking the pledge, etc. But by the time “Cover the Night” was on Kony 2012 had already lost a lot of momentum. The Kony 2012 campaign worked because: it was regarding something shocking that most people had never heard of, celebrity endorsement, it was a well-made video, but most of all it made people feel that they could make a substantial change by doing simple things like writing a status, buying a wristband and sharing the video, even though they can't really. What actually happened, a few days after people went ahead and looked into the company, Invisible Children and started spreading their findings. People weren’t impressed by the founders holding guns, and people could already see this movement would come to nothing. After the founder was arrested for innapropriate conduct, the whole issue was trivialised and pictures like these spiked in appearance. The negatives of Kony 2012 campaign were: firstly it's 2013 and Joseph Kony is still out there so it obviously didn't work, Invisible Children didn't spend their money wisely, and the founders didn't set the best example and they didn't keep their coverage after their breakthrough. It was great as an awareness campaign and really demonstrated the power of social media, but in terms of actually doing anything, it didn't get there. 

Gay Marriage: This is unlike the other movements I’ve discussed here. Is the LGBT rights movement successful? I think so, although it hasn't been legalised here in Australia, it has been in many other regions of the world, it has been far more accepted here also. This movement has appealed to the younger generations and tried to make them more accepting by applying commonsense and empathy. It has had a different sort of celebrity endorsement as members of the entertainment industry who are also part of the LGBT community have spoken out about it, (Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris spring to mind) and we still think they're pretty cool. Unfortunately peer pressure has also been used, for example, Australia has been pushed into accepting Gay Marriage now that our neighbours across the Tasman, New Zealand, have legalised it, which is a highly under-handed way of getting legislation passed. The LGBT rights movement hasn't used shock tactics like the other ones, it has been a far more gradual process, and in doing so I think it will have a more long-lasting effect.

Refugees: The Australian mainstream media has given a very negative perspective on the refugees. Refugees have been portrayed as 'boat people' and job-stealers, an invasion, and usage of resources and tax-payers; with skewed information that focuses on them being a threat rather than the human rights issues that have caused them to seek asylum.  Some great attempts by the media, such as Go Back to Where you Came From and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, have shed light the difficult circumstances and journeys that asylum seekers face, but they'd only be seen by an audience which is already accepting of refugees. But is there a way for the mainstream media to present accurate information on refugees effectively? We've discussed how shock tactics do not last long enough to create and impact, so it'd have to be gradual, but we'd keep refugees in the media in a positive light without boring people away from the topic.

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