MH370 tragedy spurs poor news coverage

On March 8, Malaysian Airlines flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, carrying 239 people. Less than an hour into the flight, all contact was lost and the plane seemed to disappear from the airspace. Since then, speculation has run wild across the news networks about how and why the plane disappeared. Talk shows in particular, even on more serious news channels such as CNN, let the demand for constant new information create a vacuum where facts took a backseat to imaginary scenarios and unnecessary time spent on picking apart what little was known until it was unclear if anyone actually knew anything at all.

Jon Stewart, during “The Daily Show” broadcast of March 24, pointed out how ridiculously not only CNN, but Fox and MSNBC as well, have been acting. All three networks are guilty of indulging the rampant speculation that has followed the disappearance of MH370. CNN doubled its ratings in the weeks that followed, though the coverage that spawned the jump was heavily criticized by Fox—who was then criticized by CNN as, basically, being jealous of their ratings. MSNBC criticized both Fox and CNN for giving into speculation involving black holes, terrorist plots and the supernatural, among other theories. Nonetheless, some MSNBC hosts were also guilty of offering wild theories. Fear-mongering and creative theorizing, however silly and reproachable, sadly do get good ratings, which has led to their widespread use particularly during the past few weeks.

This sort of news reporting is simply irresponsible. News outlets and the media should be held accountable for what they report and broadcast and should aim to report the facts and no more. Perhaps it was a better time for honest journalism when news was not broadcast 24 hours a day, because now there is a pressure to fill all the time with interesting content, even if there isn’t any. Nowadays on news channels, it seems that there are more shows about a particular host’s opinions than there are about the straightforward news and facts of the day.

Of course, different news channels will have different takes on the news, because any privately-owned company or corporation will necessarily reflect the bias of its founders or proprietors. However, news is, by definition, merely a report of recent events. Yet the media insist on putting a spin or twist on almost every item of news, as if news isn’t interesting by itself, but needs to be made relevant by implying an opinion. Or, news that is interesting on its own is so over-covered that it becomes uninteresting and warped by its proliferation.

Either way, the average reader loses because they do not receive the honest, frank, unbiased facts. The story of flight MH370 is not an exception; it is merely a highly-publicized example. It is sad that a truly tragic and horrific story has turned into a media spectacle. Very little respect for the families of the victims is to be found, or for the victims themselves.

Is there any way to reverse the trend of the exploitation of news? Probably not. The trend of ever-ready news is now too deeply ingrained in our culture, and the need for instant gratification is only growing stronger as we progress further into the digital age. And in the age of constantly updated content and short attention spans, it’s hard to hold a reader’s attention for long enough to fully explain a news story.

So instead, online news outlets have resorted to short, bare-minimum stories that lay out the bare bones of a situation without providing context or explanation. In the world of television news, bold capitals about BREAKING NEWS and news tickers (those bars at the bottom of the screen that have constantly running new information) have become the norm, bombarding viewers with a constant stream of information, whether they want it or not.

That’s not to say that instant news is a bad thing; it is certainly important to find out about events across the world within minutes of them occurring. This instantaneous transmission of information has brought us closer as a world and has fostered understanding and greater cultural awareness, creating a more global community. It has also allowed for a more well-informed public that has access to global news from multiple outlets. Sadly, people often limit themselves based on the bias of their outlet of choice. Hopefully we are moving towards an audience that demands unbiased, factual news reported honestly and quickly.

As for the Malaysian Airlines flight? Debris has possibly been spotted in the Indian Ocean, as reported by multiple news sources, and will be analyzed to see if it came from the plane. Malaysian Airlines on March 24 officially declared that the flight had been lost in the Southern Indian Ocean, but there is currently a multinational search for debris and any sign of wreckage, with the hope of recovering the black box and the fuselage. The media, of course, was more focused on the fact that some families of the victims were contacted via text message than on the actual announcement.

In truth, only those families who could not be contacted through any other means were contacted via text. This is only another example of the media trying to extract every bit of attention-worthy news out of such a serious event.

For now, I can only hope that the plane will be found and the reason for its disappearance discovered. I offer my sincere condolences to the families and hope that they do not have to suffer more at the expense of attention-hogging networks who just want the next big story and a ratings boost.

 

—Lily Elbaum ’16 is an international studies major.

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