Defining the Enemy Defines the Victim

Guest Post by: Lauren Peter, Aspiring PR Professional

Images of war and suffering in the Middle East still scatter the pages of America’s largest news outlets even after almost thirteen years of conflict. There have been thousands of American soldiers, innocent bystanders and citizens killed throughout the war. Actions by the Taliban have given hundreds of reporters something to write about.

Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist, gave news outlets around the world something to report in October 2012. From the get-go, she questioned the Taliban and spoke out against them: “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” During this time, the Taliban used their iron fist and forbade Pakistani girls from attending school, among denying other basic rights that females in the United States having. Speaking out against the Taliban, a group that has oppressed citizens across the Middle East since the early 1990s, ultimately caused tragic suffering for Malala. She was shot in the head by the Taliban on October 9, 2012. After the attempted assassination, Malala became the center of American media’s attention. The event received worldwide media coverage and produced an outpouring of sympathy and anger. Very powerful and influential American politicians, celebrities and activists spoke out on Malala’s behalf calling her a hero, and using her as the face of the consequences of the Taliban’s reign in the Middle East. Malala received dozens of national and international awards for her activism, along with receiving a nomination for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Nabila Rehman at Congressional hearing

Nabila Rehman, an eight-year-old Pakistani girl, has a similar story to Mall but hers ends very differently.   Nabila, along with her grandmother and siblings, fell victim to a CIA Predator drone attack on October 24, 2012. The drone killed her grandmother, injured Nabila and seven other innocent children. The attack received very little media attention and not much was reported about the event.  No apology, explanation or justification for the attack was issued by the United States. Nabila and her father travelled to the United States this past week for a Congressional hearing about the drone attack where only five out of 430 Congressional representatives showed up. Nabila was looking for answers and this was seemingly not well received by the United States Government.

Patterson and Wilkins, authors of Media Ethics: Issues and Cases, offer this statement regarding United States war efforts: “the turmoil surrounding how the United States responds to terrorist attacks and activities is a vivid example of how being loyal can inform decisions” (p. 82). How come Malala received international coverage for her suffering, but Nabila did not? Viewing the situation from a subjective standpoint, the only reason I can see is that reporting Nabila’s story makes her a threat to American war efforts. The Taliban almost killed Malala; a US drone, in contrast, caused Nabila’s suffering.

American media has in one respect a duty to report international news especially when it comes to ongoing Middle Eastern developments, but they seemingly chose to ignore an issue that would place the United States in bad light.  Is it fair that Nabila was pushed under the rug and given no explanation for the attack? I would have to say no, but American media is faced with conflicting loyalties. On one hand, if they report on the drone attack that shows the United States as being equally as violent as the Taliban, that could cause a lot more issues. On the other hand, ignoring such a massive tragedy causes ethical implications.

Malala was formed into a victim of the Taliban by American media; if the same were to be true for Nabila, she would be considered a victim of the United States. Ethically, Nabila’s story should be public knowledge for Americans. It was left out to ensure that the United States still remains in a somewhat positive light in Americans’ eyes. The only people recognized for their suffering in this conflict are those who fall victim to the enemy; Nabila didn’t serve that purpose, thus her story goes untold.

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Bearing the Guilt of Our Guilty Pleasures

Guest Post by: Liz Roberts, Pre-Professional PR Practitioner

Most people nowadays know that reality television is not an accurate representation of reality. It frequently depicts scripted versions of ridiculous girl fights or tearful confessions. Yet these types of shows continue to be extremely popular, especially among the larger TV networks.

There is something rather addicting about watching everyday people compete for fame and fortune, or even snap at each other over seemingly shallow matters. The dysfunction of reality TV is like a train wreck; it’s horrible to watch, but hard to look away from. Seeing people fall apart has become a major form of entertainment in America.

10 Roberts tiarasWithin the last few years, the focus has shifted from adults humiliating themselves on national television to children doing the same thing. A prime example of this shift is the popular TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras and its spinoff series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. These shows depict young children (almost always girls) getting dressed up with loads of makeup and hair extensions and parading around for judges. They also show these kids being kids, acting silly, throwing tantrums, and saying things that seem strange and often humorous to the adults who observe them. The humorous nature of these shows gives them enormous commercial appeal and entertainment value. But what are the ethical implications of using children for entertainment? How far is too far?

Many ethical decisions come into question when dealing with children in entertainment, but the biggest may be why so many people find dysfunctional children so entertaining in the first place. It’s like corrupting the innocence of a young person without their knowledge or consent is something to be proud of.

10 Roberts BooThere are other dilemmas as well, such as issues of privacy and child labor. Some reality shows film for hours, getting footage of embarrassing meltdowns or private family moments. Children can rarely decide what is put out about them; that responsibility falls on their parents and the show’s producers. Also, even though they are encouraged to go about their “normal” lives when the cameras are rolling, the pressure of having a film crew infiltrate aspects of everyday life can create great psychological strain on a child.

Since tantrums and foul language bump up ratings, producers want children to perform for the camera in a way that will entertain the audience. This belief encourages the children on these reality TV shows to misbehave. If they think they have to act crazy or humiliate themselves to get attention and approval, how will they behave as adults? Just look at former child stars Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes.

What is our responsibility as media consumers? Can we ignore unethical practices in the name of entertainment? I don’t think so. Someone needs to stand up for the children (and even adult) reality TV stars and put an end to the exploitation. For the average media consumer, taking a stand may be as simple as clicking the off button on the remote.

Think Now. Post Later.

Guest Post by: Bridget Franke, Future Public Relations Professional

Our society is programmed for instant results. We have transitioned into a practice of waiting for nothing. This behavior is evident in all aspects of today. For instance, you can get a meal or a cup of coffee in under a minute. The fast forward button lets us to skip through commercials so we don’t have to wait for our favorite show. The internet allows for unlimited information at our fingertips 24/7. This extreme sense of urgency is now implemented in all practices, especially in the news.

With immediate access to technology, the ability to receive news in real-time has taken over our consumption habits – even if it results in inaccuracies and unethical news reporting practices. Twitter, Facebook and mobile phone apps have become a primary source of news and have accomplished this by providing immediate updates of breaking news.

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One of the most appalling mistakes that exploded on social media was the misidentification of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter. This mistake, repeated by credible news sources, is not just a case of inaccuracies, but a case of extreme unethical consequences. Through analyzing the case it becomes clear just how much damage can be done to innocent citizens when media place speed over accuracy, a common practice in today’s increasingly fast world.

In a NPR article written after the Sandy Hook shooter identity mistake, BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief Mike Smith commented on the need to keep up with instant social demands and how critical it is that major news sources be wary of how quickly news, often incorrect news, spreads online. Smith said, “In any major story there’s going to be a massive, fast conversation on social media, and on Twitter in particular, trying to figure out everything they can about anyone whose name has appeared. And the idea the professionals have nothing to do with that conversation strikes me as a bad idea.”

BuzzFeed was one of the many news sources that wrongly identified Ryan Lanza as the Sandy Hook gunman. This horrible mistake was due to that fact that the sources saw the need for speed, to have breaking news on the case first, but failed to follow the most important principle of news – accuracy. News conversations have switched from professionals to any person with a Twitter account. This makes us all a part of urgent conversations and all citizen journalists.

But at what cost?

The delete button is no longer sufficient. Conversations take off at a rapid pace online and sometimes when corrections are made, it’s too late. Ryan Lanza, the shooters brother, had already lost his mother and brother on that horrible day. Instead of sympathy, Ryan Lanza received a slew of unfiltered hateful comments and his picture became the face of a murderer to millions in a matter of hours.

So who’s to blame here?

All of us. It starts with the media, who must fact check and fact check again, to avoid reckless reporting. We, citizen journalists, must also stick to ethical standards and harness the power of online communications as a positive tool and not as a way to make personal insults against others.

Overall, this is a case of careless, unethical behavior. We must all remember that our night-time news story is someone’s real life.