August 12: Throughout the world, the media’s hold on the minds of people is increasing day by day. We are often asked not to believe everything we see on television or read in the newspaper. But so compelling are the words and pictures that these media use, that it’s hard not to.
The media has become so powerful that they are forgetting a very important thing. Their job is to record news, not to create it.
But every now and then something happens in the media world that creates doubts in the minds of people about the means they use to get news.
The Sulu Islands are located on the southernmost part of Philippines. It is a part of the country where the law has little hold over the terrorists operating out of these islands.
Jolo is Sulu’s main island. Today it is in the midst of turmoil. One of Philippines’ three Muslim political organisations, the Abu Sayyaf, is holding 15 foreign hostages there.
These hostages were kidnapped a few months ago while holidaying on a nearby island resort. Along with them, 13 Filipino evangelists (people with the mission of preaching about Christ) have also been taken hostage. They had gone to the Abu Sayyaf camp to pray for the hostages’ release.
But nothing can beat the media’s stupidity in this situation. As soon as news of the hostage-taking spread, TV stations and the foreign media descended on the island of Jolo.
They are so anxious to report on the hostages, that television channels have actually paid cash to the terrorist group to give them more coverage of the ‘event’. Moreover, thanks to the wide-coverage, this little-known group finds itself famous.
It is believed that various TV teams have already paid an estimated $50,000. On one occasion, a European TV team had gone to film the original hostages. They were briefly taken hostages themselves. They then gave the Abu Sayyaf group $25, 000 and were freed. They had brought the money anticipating their own kidnapping!
Meanwhile, the Abu Sayyaf group can’t believe its luck. Not only is it getting famous because of international media coverage, it is getting rich too. And they know that if they can prolong the crisis further, they will become even more so. So now the terrorists are demanding US $1 million for the release of each European hostage.
The Filipino government finds itself pushed into a corner. It cannot use force because most of the hostages are European. And their respective governments have asked it not to bring in the military.
At the same time, these governments are insisting that the terrorists are not paid to release the hostages. So what are the Filipinos to do? They are thinking hard about finding a way out.
In another part of the world too, the media has been busy creating fake heroes. Recently, in the island-nation of Fiji, rebel leader George Speight had captured the country’s prime minister and other leaders and held them hostage.
The media, however, treated Speight like god, only making him bolder in the process, says a recent report in ‘The Times of India’. Speight was ultimately overthrown, but not before causing a lot of tension and uncertainty for the people of Fiji, and especially the relatives of the hostages.
In this way the media is proving to be a nuisance in many sensitive world events. If television and newspapers journalists continue to behave in this way, we may soon see them being blocked from all information, at a time of crisis.
And that would be tragic, for the journalist has been one of the most powerful recorders of history in the 20th century – through pen and through pictures or photographs.