Barely a day goes by that we don’t hear people complain about the media. About how biased they are and how they push their own agendas. The job of the media is to report the facts, but in the age of social media, more television channels than we can count, and an internet’s worth of opinions, ‘facts’ don’t necessarily mean what they did.

Scrambling for our attention

In the 1960s the UK only had two TV channels, the BBC and ITV. BBC would eventually become BBC1 in 1964 when BBC2 was created. Two channels meant only two news programmes, and the main radio channels were also run by the BBC. Such limited options meant that news outlets didn’t have to fight for our attention.

Zoom forward to 2022 and there are now approximately 460 UK-based TV channels, excluding all the ones we get from abroad. A multitude of channels means a variety of competing news programmes. We no longer have to go to the channels, the channels must now come to us. They have to earn our views, and the easiest way to do that is by agreeing with us.

Whether you are left-wing, right-wing, or hate the whole political circle, there is a news outlet somewhere that caters to your beliefs. And that means you can ignore all the rest. The media has had to come up with different strategies to attract new viewers. The result is a compilation of sensationalist stories or a venture into alternative political views. And every time, the aim is the same: to keep us interested.

… But is that really so bad?

Not a day goes by without us being told that somewhere, something terrible is happening. Social media live broadcasts every tragic event from around the world, making it feel as though they are happening next door. Such frequent proximity to bad news has been proven to contribute to higher rates of depression and anxiety in viewers and, worryingly, to inhibit empathy towards the content viewed. This is hardly surprising, though. Beings constantly told that you are surrounded by knife crime might understandably make you anxious or depressed. However, at some point, you will likely just stop caring. Once this desensitization happens, news outlets seek new ways of grabbing our attention.

Every year, around 6 million car accidents occur that result in 1.35 million deaths. However, in 2019, 640 planes crashed killing 477 passengers. One of these statistics is far worse than the other, with far more casualties. And yet, it’s the plane crashes that we hear about the most.

Why? you might wonder. The answer is that the normalcy of car crashes makes them bad for news coverage. Once upon a time, a car accident was newsworthy. Today there are just too many of them to demand our attention. What’s more, we know that driving can be dangerous and we still do it anyway. Over the years, we have grown indifferent to the dangers of driving and this desensitization is partly thanks to the news.

When it comes to plane crashes, the media seems to have learned from their mistake. The news is not oversaturated with death stories of people dying in aeroplanes. Instead, news of these ‘tragedies’ is peppered to us throughout the year like some morbid surprise. What is apparent, is that in the case of planes vs cars, the media has successfully made us scared of a rarity and apathetic towards a frequently occurring certainty.

Blind to facts

The media often exercises control over what we think is important. They can make us blind to the gun pointed straight at our face over the knife in our neighbour’s kitchen. And this is a power we often ignore.

As a society, we need to be selective and reflective about the news we read. Bombarding ourselves with story after story is not always the best way to be informed. Instead, take a break from social media and stay away from 24-hour news cycles. Ironically, in our modern world, sometimes the best way to stay on top of the facts is by decreasing the amount of information we receive.

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