I often tell myself that I shouldn’t watch the news, and just read them instead, as it is so much easier to not read something than to tune out the TV, radio, or podcast. But today, as I was grading, I started watching Anderson Cooper. And there it was. A video focusing on the children who died in the, for now, crash of a Russian plane in Egypt over the weekend. And I couldn’t help to wonder: Was that necessary?
I understand the need to inform. I understand that there were 25 kids on that plane, and that their loss is important. And I have seen the picture of the 10 month old girl with her hands pressed against an airport glass. We all have. It gives me chills because I have pictures like that of my kids at every age, 1, 2, 3, 8 years old. That’s what we do when we wait for planes. That’s what we will be doing in a month.
But I don’t think that CNN showed this video because they thought it was newsworthy. As much as I would like to think about it as a tribute, I think that they showed it to appeal to the fascination that a big part of the public feels for tragedy. I would lie if I said that I don’t feel it too. Most of us are attracted to the screen when there is a shooting, an earthquake, an accident… Or when Donald Trump is in the news. It may be the fact that in that moment, whatever is going on in our lives, they instantly seem better and more bearable by comparison to what the screen is showing. It may be that we want to know, that we thrive and rest assured when we have information about anything important that is happening around us. It may be that there is no better reality show than real life itself.
But when news channels start to cross the line towards entertainment they run the risk of becoming less serious. Less trustworthy. The illusion of impartiality (and it is always an illusion) starts to fade. And that is the path CNN has been following in the last years.
When I first arrived in this country, it surprised me to see how restrained and respectful news programs were regarding the treatment of images and information of any kind of tragedy. In Spain, and for what I can tell from my limited exposure to some of them, in other Spanish speaking countries, the opposite is true: news programs will show the most gruesome pictures, regardless of any notion of respect, good taste or even common sense. If you look at the treatment of the images from 9/11 and from the train bombings in Madrid in 2004, in both American and Spanish media the difference is abismal. While Spanish outlets used for their covers close photos of victims, both injured and dead, the anglo-saxon media in general held back these images and used either pictures of the surroundings, or of bystanders, survivors, or buildings.
In my ideal world, the Spanish outlets would be taking after their American colleagues. As it is, the opposite seems to be happening. Slowly, some outlets in this country, including CNN, are getting closer to the Hispanic model. Because audience numbers rule, you know? And that is just a pity. An unethical pity.
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