Media-induced Distress

Okay, so I am writing again already. Prompted by the first comment left by yet another “anonymous” under my last post, something needs to be said about media-induced distress. I cannot say that I have no sympathy for sufferers of this ailment; indeed it would be hypocritical for me to deny the anxiety stirring power of the media given the subject of my articles at the height of the cartoon fracas. I was, however, stunned by this comment:

“Why am I reading, and will continue to read, your blog? Because I now view all Muslims as terrorists with one goal; and that is to kill non-muslims. I know my view is being warped by the news media, critics, etc. so am trying to understand why…”

I cannot claim to be fanatical in following the media, but I do get a fair exposure so it is difficult for me to comprehend how anyone could come to the conclusion that “all muslims” are terrorists from this source. Is reporting really that bad? When the earthquake happened in Pakistan, I recall that a number of Muslim charities received very good publicity. Similarly their role in the relief efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan and, more recently, the famine hit regions across East Africa have received a fair amount of attention. On the other hand, much has been said about Muslims as victims of conflict and crisis worldwide. So what is it that blinds people to this reporting?

When my mother was a hospital chaplain some years ago, she used to come home telling us about “a lovely Muslim Doctor” who would come to pray in the chapel every day. When I became a Muslim myself, she asked me, “But what about the terrible way Muslims behave?” What is it that skews a person’s viewpoint despite their own experience? My grandmother once touched on this, telling me that as a child she was told never to trust Jews and Catholics; but when she finally met people of these two faiths she considered them some of the most wonderful people she had ever met. She told me this after meeting some of my Muslim friends at my wedding. They were lovely, she told me, despite what people say about Muslims.

It is interesting because I don’t take this blanket derogation of Muslims away with me from the media. In fact I am conscious that many Jews consider the BBC anti-Semitic because of its reporting from Palestine, many Black people claim it is racist, members of BNP call it anti-white, all while it is labelled Islamophobic. Furthermore, I never found myself thinking that all Irish people or all Catholics were terrorists at the height of the IRA bombing campaigns. I find it impossible to comprehend that one could be so heavily swayed by the news media. Thus, if this is a genuine occurrence I can only conclude that my own viewpoint is affected by the conscious decisions I have made.

The first such decision was to remove the television from my home. My wife and I made this decision around November 2001, primarily because we found ourselves wasting so much time in the aftermath of the attacks on America, coming home in the evening to watch the Six O’Clock News, Channel Four News, the Ten O’Clock News and Newsnight. We realised that our need-to-know attitude as actually false, for in reality we only come to know what editors choose to tell us. Life without television means that I am often out of touch with the latest trends, fashions, music, products, cars and conversations. Big deal. On those occasions when I am visiting friends and the television is on I do feel there is no need to feel regret.

Naturally I don’t have access to a hundred channels of satellite TV, indeed I never have. My newspaper when I choose to buy one is The Independent. I would never buy The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Express or any other such paper. Conscious choices. On the Internet, it is a cursory glance at the BBC on my arrival at work in the morning, perhaps occasionally The Times, The Guardian and The Independent as well. I used to spend a long time scanning all sorts of sources, but again I realised it served no purpose. Consciously I chose to fast my media consumption. My one weakness is Radio 4, which I tend to have on in my car in the morning and evening and to which I listen at home.

A number of my friends have given up the media altogether, recognising the addiction for what it is. It is unnatural in any case, says one of them, for even a century ago our predecessors would have known little more than what was happening across the county. Important news would get through eventually, but decisions were not required based upon the breaking news. It is not healthy to have so much information bombarded at us day and night, he argued; quite an irony given that he works for the world’s largest satellite broadcaster. Other friends go on media-free retreats and come back telling us how refreshed they feel. As for me, I find my TV-free home a true sanctuary, an abode of peace (Darussalam).

Those suffering media-induced distress may find comfort in treating the addiction, fasting for a while, turning off the TV and closing the papers. Some drink green tea to detoxicate their bodies others fast the daylight hours. A similar prescription can certainly be written for the soul.

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