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The importance of the media
The mainstream media is one of the most important aspects of a functioning and participatory democracy. It helps us form our views of the world around us, influence our opinion and let us learn about all manner of things we may otherwise never have come across. It is incredibly beneficial but in today’s world, it also has real problems.
Constructive criticism and debate is a necessary part of our development (as individuals, communities, and societies). It helps avoid stagnation, complacency and blind conformity, while enhancing democracy and diversity.
Yet, since writing about global issues, I have found that oftentimes, the mainstream media is subject to the political interests of powerful people and groups. Many global issues appear to be misrepresented in the mainstream for various reasons such as politics, profit motives, to stifle debate, suppress dissent, and so on. Some of these issues may not be receiving enough—or any—mainstream media attention and therefore there is a lack of enough open and public debate, while other concerns seem to be getting a biased attention only.
As a result, the range of discourse in the mainstream is narrow despite the appearance of healthy debate. Many presuppositions and assumptions are never questioned or realized as limiting factors. A quick example is what is often called “world news.” Rarely is it described as something like “world news from a western perspective” or “news about issues around the world that we feel is of interest to our nation”!
I did not use to have much interest in global affairs
Around the world, even in Europe there has long been bits of resentment or criticism of American foreign policy, even in the UK where I grew up. In addition, for many years it has been well understood outside of the US that the American mainstream media’s news is often sensational and that its international news coverage is hardly international—often American-centric—leading to the effect that many American citizens know little about the outside world.
We often heard such sentiments growing up in UK, for example, though I never thought much about it and even felt most of it was ridiculous exaggeration. While I liked watching world news I never really used to be that interested in global affairs.
Growing up in U.K., even though I am South Asian/Indian, I grew up with various stereotypes of other places around the world, especially of the poor and poor countries. I even used to ignore the experiences of my community and families that had experienced either direct or indirect colonialism and imperialism in the past in East Africa and India. I used to think that they are just making excuses and so forth. I didn’t even realize that perhaps being exposed almost exclusively to Western viewpoints of the world would have helped shape me and many others in my generation to have such negative views about my own roots, people and others with a similar history.
But all this changed shortly after graduating from University and moving to the US for my first job late 1997.
Having just graduated I had an interesting conversation with a university friend. He was a kind of activist, campaigning on things like anti-racism, third world development and the like, though I never really talked to him much about those things. But one day, I did. He simply asked me if I knew what Structural Adjustment Programs were, and I said no. When he described it to me, I was shocked that we imposed such disastrous policies on the third world. (I have since written about Structural Adjustment if you are interested. It has become one of the most popular pages on the site.) That summer, a couple of months before moving to the US, he told me of a new web site which he said I might want to use for global news coverage while I am in the US. I didn’t look at it much at first. (Never did I expect to become a partner of theirs a few years later! It was OneWorld.net, then OneWorld.org).
Living in America
It was while living in the US that I began to see very quickly the poor quality mainstream media first hand (also being touted as the best media in the world). For example, many news reports seemed sensationalized, and what seemed like trivial issues were made into headline news while truly important global events were just not covered. (One particularly memorable example is how an admittedly impressive new record of home runs in a baseball season by a player became the top story in an ABC World News broadcast. In addition, that 30-minute segment did not have any actual world news, apart from an American Senator visiting Israel, though that story appeared more about the senator rather than about Israel.)
I found myself thinking that these earlier criticisms I had grown up hearing might not be as exaggerated I originally thought they were. As I began to reflect on the wider ramifications of this, I feared that almost an entire nations’s views and opinions of others around the world could be negatively affected.
Given the unqiue position of the United States as the only global superpower, and how so many people want to live there due to the ideals it portrays, how so many people consume its cultural products (movies, music, etc), and how its influence around the world in global politics surpasses those of all other nations, these issues are paramount.
At the same time, I found most Americans I met to be incredibly passionate, friendly, kind and caring about various issues, so it was even more disappointing to see what appeared to be the mainstream media affecting so many good people’s world views.
Concerned at poor mainstream media quality, I started reading
Therefore, in my own spare time, eager to find out more about what was going on in the wider world, and thanks to a growing Internet at that time, I started reading into these issues from a number of alternative but reliable web sources, books and other resources (charities, NGOs, research institutes, news organizations from other countries, etc.).
By moving to another country and living there for a few years, I also realized that people from my community and others from the developing world weren’t necessarily making excuses (though that does happen sometimes), but that there was some real validity to their criticisms about the impacts of colonialism to them just a few decades ago, and even that the remnants of it is felt today. This too has motivated me into reading and understanding more about geopolitics. I realized that there is much to learn from what they have experienced, and that many other communities around the world share similar experiences. In fact, I guess I am a bit ashamed that I didn’t really listen to them much before and that I was able to realize this myself only after moving to another country and seeing how the rest of the world was portrayed by that country, and understanding more about the US with an outsider’s perspective.
And I started the globalissues.org web site
Meanwhile, for work, I thought this Internet thing was getting quite popular and that I had better brush up on web technologies. To help focus on something as I practiced and learned, it made sense that I could write about what I was reading and discovering.
I never realized that this web site would take off in any way! However, around mid-1998 after pondering on it for a couple of weeks I decided to purchase globalissues.org. I found myself writing more and more, after work and on the weekends, often late into the night. No doubt, I have had to slow down now, but late nights (1–4am, for example) are still quite common! Since those early days of about 20-40 page visits per day, towards the end of 2005, this site has been seeing some 40,000, daily. I am pleasantly surprised at how much it has grown.
I find—and hopefully you will agree—that almost all these global issues are closely inter-related, affecting and being affected by one another.
While I currently do not talk much about solutions, concentrating instead on issues and causes, I do hope that as more and more people become aware of the various issues, more and more ideas on ways to tackle these can come to the fore.
The deeper background and context for various global issues is critical to understanding how we got to where we are today. Only then can we begin to contemplate and effectively plan where we are headed and what that implies for the societies and peoples of today and tomorrow.
(I have also written more about the media in the mainstream media section of this web site. Other pages in this section include questions and answers about this site and why I am doing certain things, or not, etc. Please do read them for more information and answers. And if you do have any feedback or criticism of this site, please let me know!)
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