Wednesday, May 22Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Westernisation of the Media

What is the value of human life? 

What is a “dominant western ideology”? It is best described as the propagation of a rigid geopolitical identity that prioritises western values, while concealing and alienating third world countries. As you can imagine, this is a deeply embedded narrative determining the discussions and outcomes in any political or academic space . Nearly all types of media coverage perpetuate western models of journalism, navigating desirable political views, and consequently overlooking the baseless claims that they might be making or insinuating. 

Historically, the tendency to privilege and perpetuate narrow-minded western thought traces back to the Imperial age. During a time when minority groups were glorified, and the elitist perspective involved “saving people from oppression”, Western colonies were able to nurture their economic and political sovereignty quite early on. By establishing the “saviour” identity, and the categorisation that came with colonial servitude, colonies were able to entrench biased distinctions between the “civilised” and “uncivilised” worlds. After a long history of radicalisation, the portrayal of ethnic groups as inferior now presents itself in the form of “unconscious bias” in the media.  

If we are to take the most recent example of the war in Ukraine, we can see this misrepresentation in action. While EU countries have gone above and beyond in showing their solidarity with Ukraine, their reluctance to prioritise Ukrainian refugees over those fleeing from Syria or Palestine has stirred curiosity and scepticism. 

Given our contentious reliance on technology, public opinion is inevitably swayed from what we read online. And some of those journalists, unfortunately, become the ‘tools of cheap propaganda.’ 

While accepting Ukrainians is showing EU’s compassion for those fighting for freedom, the discriminatory coverage has often ignored or worse denounced the humanitarian ramifications of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. So, one cannot help but ask: Does the value of life differ for refugees in these regions? 

When we take a closer look at the increased level of responses from politicians, we realise that this issue does not reside in biased media alone. Former Bulgarian Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov, for instance, referred to the Ukrainian citizens as ‘intelligent… educated people.’ Kelly Cobiella, an NBC correspondent, went on to identify their distinct racial difference, saying ‘they’re Christian, they’re white, they’re very similar to us.’ While such remarks demonstrate Western media’s empathy for Ukrainian citizens, this type of commentary bears ethnocentric implications. The comment openly favours those of a particular race, and thus displays Europe’s preference for refugees of economic status. 

Although it is not possible to completely eradicate bias from decision making, we need to be mindful of marginalised perspectives regardless of their ethnic origin or socio-economic background. The truth is that people struggle to connect with those whose culture and religion seem different, but this is exactly what creates the divide in society. Even though the phrase “they’re like us” might initially seem innocent, it stigmatises groups of people. That being said, many journalists play a decisive role in broadcasting overt aggression when they see it. The atrocities against Palestinians, committed by Israel, should be treated with the same level of respect and importance. Both countries have suffered a great loss, and the governments responsible should be held accountable for their actions. 

As you can imagine, we are left wondering what then should be treated as a humanitarian crisis. What constitutes as a threat to human life? To which countries do we show a level of compassion and support towards? Surely, this question should not determine global responses to tragedies and hardships; however, given the scant coverage of the barbaric acts occurring in Palestine and countless other countries, we cannot help but ask.. 

Moreover, one should not ignore the political pressure on journalists and their efforts in showcasing this polarisation in the media. It’s not to say that the information we find in media is always misleading, but it’s important to be aware that the phrase “freedom of the press” might not be as “free” as one might have assumed. Given that the media’s aim is to tailor alternative paradigms, editorial ethics should be scrutinised moving forward. 

Image: Matthew Guay via Unsplash