media culpa

Define “media.”

If your definition includes some sort of formal structure, as in traditional media, I’m proud to say I’m not at present a member of the media. Proud today, especially, as on this day a deserved dark cloud hangs over all members of the so-called media. Was it really only two days ago that respected newscasters on CBC, CTV and CNN had a good chuckle at the expense of the Duchess of Cambridge, in light of a stunt by a pair of wacky Australian shock-jocks? So much tittering over such a shameless and, sadly, successful plea for attention. But hey, the only victim in the hoax replayed round the world was an ailing, hospitalized woman in dire need of a rare spell of privacy, right? Good on ya, Aussie pranksters!

It was offensive, immature and intrusive in the highest degree. And oh how the media loved it. Until today. Though, let’s face it, thanks to a second victim thoughtlessly thrust into the spotlight two days ago, media have another shocking story on their hands. And no doubt they will run with it, too.

Media, incidentally, were not always known as such. Until about four decades ago the media were the press, a workmanlike title arguably more befitting the job of muck-raking journeyman writer and editor that is the typical reporter of today. The change appears to have come in the wake of the Watergate scandal Stateside. That constitutional crisis not only provided a handy nickname for every subsequent political scandal — not just in America but, rather inexplicably, in Canada as well — but also elevated lowly press to a loftier status. Reporters were already fond of writing themselves into every other Hollywood movie and TV show, but now came to believe they — and not the colossal ego and arrogance of President Nixon and his cronies — had single-handedly brought down the government of the world’s most powerful nation. “Press” hardly seemed a grand enough title for people without whom we would all be lost. Certainly, we would not know for whom we are to vote or which books and films we intend to enjoy. “Press” just doesn’t cut it with today’s press. I mean, what, we’re going to learn about the world around us through word of mouth? As if.

Of course, the importance of traditional media is rapidly diminishing. There is some recognition of this reality in the desperate look-how-hip-we-are pleas on radio and television as well as in print for us to “like” faceless institutions or to tweet them whatever comes to mind. Yes, well, we are already tweeting and liking what we want to, thanks, via a choice of wonderfully populist and accessible means of communication free of paywalls and stuffiness. True, putting dilettantes and authorities on an even keel comes with a price, and makes it increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, but it’s oh so comforting to think that the handful of rich and powerful men in control of traditional media are not the bosses of us. Other rich and powerful men, maybe. But even media sometimes require a reality check. Today, a sizable one has been provided in the death of one Jacintha Saldanha, a young woman who until two days ago was known to friends and family as a provider of care.
That was before a pair of brainless DJs hit upon a hilarious way to amuse and impress for a few minutes of airtime. Ms Saldanha, it seems, had the misfortune of falling victim to what was a reprehensible stunt; guilty, to be sure, of poor judgement but also guilty of trusting people, of taking them at their word. The result was a few moments of unfunny and uncalled-for filler material, subsequently and enthusiastically rebroadcast by media outlets everywhere. A bit of a giggle. And, one hopes, now fodder for a good few sleepless nights not only for the offending DJs but for many a member of the press.And yes, anachronistic as the term may seem, let’s start the healing by demoting the self-proclaimed media once more to the press. Think of it as being put on notice. Or, if you like, as a source for sensational stories of the type media love best — self-aggrandizing.

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