Are we too busy watching 'Survivor' to care?
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 22, 2003
From the number and quality of responses to last week's column, it's
that many of you have a keen interest in the role of media in war, peace,
Several coffee companions from the Cochrane-Bearspaw-Calgary area forwarded
to me some outstanding articles and speeches from around the world on
But one letter, in particular, presented a persuasive personal insight.
Denise Coleman is an experienced professional in transnational and
intercultural policy analysis. She's also an astute critic of the Fourth
Estate, as the profession of journalism is often called. She writes from
HI, WARREN. Your observations about the media's role in the drive to
were most apropos. Because of my own work as the editor of an online
and information company, it is an issue that I constantly grapple with.
Here in the US, the problem (in my view) is the abdication of responsibility
by the media as the Fourth Estate. I made this comment recently to a
colleague who brushed it aside by saying, "Oh, that only applies
print medium, not to TV or Internet news." I had yet another person
suggest that I should change the demographic factors for one particular
cultural group just to sensationalize an issue.
The concept of democracy in nation states rests on the notion of an
informed citizenry, making choices and decisions based on some body
of knowledge. That knowledge is disseminated via the media. The public
airwaves even more so than privately-run print media houses
are public precisely because of public interest in information dissemination.
Hyperbolic and bellicose language, which now permeates news broadcasts,
no way to inform a public that is in dire need of understanding the
challenges of today's world. In fact, I assert the following two positions:
(1) There has been an erosion of the Fourth Estate in all media forms
because sensationalization has taken over and makes for better ratings
thus more profits); and (2) The media is participating in a current
Why bother to highlight the many vectors of the current North Korean
or the rush to war in Iraq when the leader of the free world described
global spectrum in simplistic "good versus evil" terms? Why
discussion dealing with why anti-American and anti-Western sentiment
increasing across the world when one can watch Muslims in other countries
burning the American flag?
In the end, the information-free climate is created by the people
as well as
those in charge of the public airwaves. People are fairly malleable
they will consume via the public airwaves. As well, people generally
longer interested in the responsibility of good citizenship, which demands
some perfunctory attention to issues of import.
Given this backdrop, the public should not be shocked at the coarsening
the cultural fabric, the devolution of civil rights and liberties, the
erosion of democracy as we have known it, and most recently, the increasing
drumbeats of war.
After all, the public, as well as the caretakers of the public airwaves,
both too busy eating Doritos and watching "Survivor" to care
society is slipping away and bombs are being dropped on innocent human
beings thousands of miles away.
Denise Youngblood-Coleman, Houston, Texas
I WANT TO THANK Denise for this assessment. I find it interesting that,
whenever she writes, she closes with a quote from Kierkegaard: "People
demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought
they seldom use." Denise, on the other hand, is one of those special
of whom Kierkegaard could be justifiably proud; she has brought together
best of freedom of speech and freedom of thought.
If you'd like to read more of what Denise has to say on global issues,
check out www.countrywatch.com.
© 2003 Warren Harbeck
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