Exploring the Double Standards in Media
Our main source of information, the news media, is worryingly susceptible to bias. Entire populations are suffering worldwide, yet their media coverage is not nearly enough to inspire change.
Our main source of information, the news media, is worryingly susceptible to bias. Entire populations are suffering worldwide, yet their media coverage is not nearly enough to inspire change. In particular, the situation in the Middle East has made the region an easy source of headline news, resulting in undercoverage of equally important issues in the United States and China. But the inflation of American news coverage of the Middle East teaches us a worrying lesson about Western media: in order to protect American interests and curtail public scrutiny, it avoids coverage on nuanced issues of greater obscurity that are more uncomfortable for audiences to accept. However, the most enigmatic, or deliberately hidden, injustices, are often the ones that need the most coverage possible.
The secure hold that China has over the American economy causes the Western press to focus less on Chinese debacles. As many American goods are sourced from China, decent relations are necessary to ensure cooperation and maintain a steady flow of Chinese imports. Ignoring China’s mistreatment of Uyghurs is one way to preserve business interests. Ultimately, China’s global economic power is what allows it to commit human rights crimes and violations of civil liberties without consequences. In addition to its economic strength, China’s diplomatic relations with countries such as Pakistan cause even Muslim majority states to overlook Ugyhur genocide. But simply because China has the authority to behave this problematically doesn’t mean we should divert attention elsewhere and move on. The media, particularly American press and news outlets, have a distinct power and social responsibility. Press also has the platform to instigate serious political dialogue through its revelations, such as the leaking of government files by Edward Snowden, which exposed an entirely unknown threat to the safety of technology users. Sending people to internment camps and sterilizing them certainly deserves the same amount of coverage.
In the case of the U.S., a convoluted political system and a wealth of domestic issues mean that certain smaller, but equally important stories, don’t receive due coverage. On the U.S.-Mexico border, even while Covid-19 rages on, detainees under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a government-run agency, endure severe human rights violations. Beyond family separations, new whistleblowers have come forward with testimony around women being unknowingly coerced into unnecessary hysterectomies, and other immigrants being practically doused in toxic disinfectants. Despite new accounts of injustices coming forward regularly, the ICE has received strikingly little media coverage and pressure over the last few months. Granted, the U.S. has recently faced a barrage of internal problems, from an uncontrollable pandemic to a messy presidential race. But it is the responsibility of the news media to cover issues that blatantly jeopardize human rights, even if doing so defies the government. From the perspective of news sources, the politicization of American politics makes it far easier to, say, criticize Trump for saying something uncouth or downplaying the current crises rather than to bring readers a niche subject such as immigrant abuse. Therefore, big media companies place petty political disputes on the front page while ongoing immigrant mistreatment is scarcely paid attention to. As a result, people are trodden upon without recognition, and not only is their suffering not addressed, they receive no justice.
To further understand the issue of bias in American media, we must understand why certain issues are much easier to tackle than others due to the way different regions of the world are portrayed. The U.S. and China want to be seen as frontrunners in our modern world. Economically advanced and diplomatically influential, they seek to serve as models for other countries. On the other hand, the global perspective on the Middle East is blurred by prejudices that have stemmed from the actions of radical extremists who account for less than one percent of the Middle Eastern population. American news sources play into these generalizations by frequently reporting on Middle Eastern terrorism, portraying the entire region as a scene of unbridled chaos. The media’s adherence to such stereotypes not only perpetuates a poor understanding of the region but also steers much-needed emphasis away from other critical issues, since the belabored connections between terrorism and the Middle East make these conflicts not only simpler to explain, but easier for the public to accept. Thus, articles featuring acts of terror in the Middle East often outnumber articles about the shortcomings of dominant international players such as the U.S. and China. But this disparate coverage only highlights how the media is taking the “easier route” by bypassing uncomfortable topics. Unfortunately, without being held accountable by media reports, both Chinese and American governments have vehemently denied all accusations despite multiple accounts and, in some instances, video evidence. It is the responsibility of the mainstream media to analyze such evidence, yet no action has been taken. Therefore, we must look for another way to hold high ranking officials responsible.
The term “spread awareness” has become grossly overused, a vague mantra with little substance. Yet, the news media’s ability to “spread awareness” is exactly what gives it so much power. Sources such as the New York Times or The Guardian have had a long history of uncovering American injustices, and due to their legacy and journalistic standards, hold much more credibility in actually influencing government policy. We’ve seen this occur on multiple occasions, such as with the Pentagon Papers, Watergate Scandal, and Snowden Archive. But these momentous instances should not just end at Snowden. Current real-world travesties deserve coverage, and the American press and news outlets should live up to their responsibilities.