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Raining Statistics: crisis in the media

On a rainy day in my home city, I hear the radio feeding me news about another town, on the other side of the world, which has considerably more rain pouring down on it. There’s a Hurricane roaring through Texas, I’ve been informed. It’s a tragedy; at least 44 people have been killed in what is said to be the most extreme rain event in American history.

I’m bombarded with vivid depictions of the disaster; everything from the emotive language employed by journalists to the interviews with individuals recounting their ordeal is rightly intended to wrench my heart and make me think. It’s a true calamity.

However, it’s not these harrowing stories that are troubling me. It’s the brief mentions of another rain event, one over in Bangladesh. I hear the statistics of the death poll glossed over in same mundane, matter-of-fact way as the rest of the news is presented in. At least 1,200 lives have been stolen away by this monsoon, 1.8 children are unable to go to school, and at least 32 million people have been affected. Statistically, Hurricane Harvey shrivels in comparison to the devastation of the monsoon in South Asia, but that’s not how my radio portrays it to me, which leaves me wondering:

Why is some rain more important to us than others?

Geographically, South Asia is far closer to Australia than the contiguous United States. Demographically, there are significantly more Asians living in Australia than Americans. So why do we think we are more like them? Why should that affect what’s more important to us?

There’s a vicious trap which cycles through the inequitable representation of affairs in the media, the public’s resultant gravitation towards the most captivating stories, and the subsequent channelling of funds and resources these top-selling headlines. The media plays a large role in the education at the population, and it’s often at the expense of the blandly portrayed issues with low emotional enticement.

The worry with this structure, is that in a democracy, the opinion and concerns of the people, based on the knowledge they have, dictate the agenda of the politicians that represent them. How can we create a better society for all of humanity, if our population is oblivious to the issues that cripple millions in the countries neighbouring our own?

Time and time again we’ve been spectators to the results of this effect in the international political stadium. The misconceptions which bloom from selective and warped coverage of news have propelled xenophobia, racism and intolerance; compassion outside the sphere of one’s local community has dissipated. And these unfortunately misinformed emotional mindsets have been fertile breeding ground for the extreme, nationalist, populist politicians that we’ve seen rising all over the world: Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán, Donald Trump; the nationalist Swiss People’s Party won 29.0% of votes at the last election; at least 11 other nationalist parties received a notable share of votes in the most recent elections of their respective countries.

People are fearful. The unknown is a terrifying concept. These politicians present a hope of protection. But the protection is for themselves and not for the millions of people living the reality of the terror voters fear.

In reality, a protection for the other uproots the foundations for the fear for one’s self at it’s cause. A more integrated, educated, understanding humanity will dispel fear and hatred. As citizens of a democracy, it is not only our duty, but it is in our interest, to implore our government to realise that hope.

Whether the problem be climate change, increasing the prevalence of devastating meteorological disasters such as that in Houston or South Asia, or terrorism, tearing refugees from their war-torn homelands and into begrudging foreign nations, democracies will act on the will of their citizens. The will of citizens is what we need to ensure be aligned with an educated hope for our fellow humans who suffer out of the media’s lens.

An unrelenting examination of the state of our ever-evolving human history is required. My hope for us, is to be able to rise above our financial greed for top-selling headlines and respect our own intelligence. We merit a media that educates us. We deserve the knowledge that enables us to direct our governments in a direction that considers issues larger than our borders. Both statistical human lives and devastated families depend on it.