How the Western Media Promotes a Mistaken View of the World
I am not good at flying kites. But during a recent visit to the Olympic Village of Beijing, I felt compelled to do so. Despite the cold and late hour, there were many kite runners around me. A salesman insisted that I try my hand before committing to any purchase, and I did. Once I finalized the purchase of ten small kites, I shared the one I was already flying one with a most adorable boy. He thanked me, then asked me not to play with his hair.
A formation of about 10 soldiers was suddenly in tatters when I asked if I could take a photo with them. Their excitement seemed to surpass mine.
None of this should by any means take away from the seriousness of the violent crackdown at the
One hardly ever reads positive news from
True, but it also seems that Western media cares little about these countries, outside of a very narrow context. The story of
Once the Red Shirts and the government sort out their problems,
This was not the impression I got during my last visit to Malaysia. It is, in many respects, a thriving society. It has its internal politics, like anywhere else, but essentially Christians and Muslims seem to be getting along just fine, as they have been for many years.
Media channels – especially those dispatching their news from various Western capitals - focus not simply on sensational news, but they also intentionally sensationalize news, and purposely relay the news so as to be understood within Western contexts. Thus ‘democracy’, ‘elections’, ‘government restrictions’ and ‘terrorism’ are the usual buzzwords.
Sadly, the south is also stereotyped in the south itself. Newspapers in non-Western societies depend on coverage provided by Western news agencies for their international news. An Indonesian friend recently commended on my ‘bravery’ for going to South Africa. For him, South Africa is just ‘Africa,’ where ‘primitive’ people, along with lions and other wild animals prey on innocent white tourists. Thank you, Hollywood, for perfecting the art of stereotype.
Similarly, some people show utter disbelief when they discover that Iran is one of the world’s busiest travel destinations - not necessarily for Americans or Israelis, but for people across the globe. Yes, Iran has much to offer in terms of culture, history, scenery and societal achievements. There is far more to the country than clashing soldiers and youth, or fiery statements pertaining to nuclear weapons, Israel and the Holocaust.
A few years ago, in Stockholm, I asked a group of officials to tell me the images that popped in their heads when they thought of Palestinians. I asked them to be honest, assuring them that nothing they said would offend me. But when I heard back from them, I was indeed very offended. The images were unfailingly gory. Even the ‘positive’ images amongst them were disturbing and stereotypical.
The western media will continue to reduce non-Westerners, for they have a vested interest in doing so, and it has become habitual. A first step in overcoming this would be to empower our own local and regional media, and to create rapports amongst them. We can only challenge the abhorrent narratives about us when we start to present our own truth and experience, and support others to do the same.