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Soaking news in blood and tears will turn us into a violent nation

Tuesday October 15 2019

MEDIA

The media serve us sorry and gory tales of death nearly every day. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JOHN KIBET
By JOHN KIBET
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"Have you heard? The radio has said that every man should hack his wife!" a suddenly agitated man informed his dear wife as he scrambled for a machete, startling the bewildered woman into a frenzied fright and flight around the house. She escaped, though she suffered a cut on the leg.

Many years later, I still do not know what the otherwise calm old man may have heard from his old wood-panelled radio.

But the incident captures the power of news, whether true or fake, that an audience can pick, make own interpretation and act.

The country was not at war and the radio was not spewing vile hatred and murder against anyone, a la the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

We were in peacetime and the man was enjoying the evening sun in his compound as the woman tended to their few livestock.

That incident comes to mind as we soak in the shocking news of recent horrible murders. The news drips with blood and tears these days as the media serve us sorry and gory tales of death nearly every day.

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The cases keep rising, virtually turning bulletins into national grieving sessions.

PROBE EVENTS

Apparently, the Grim Reaper is roaming with a ravenous rage, ripping pretty souls across the country. Its target mainly young women in college and at home.

Its weapons of horror are the household tools — the kitchen knives, pangas, axes. On other occasions, guns, the tools of national security, in foul hands.

Its agents, alarmingly, are the people we know, and love — a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a boyfriend....

There is a sense in which the frequency and cruelty of death news on TV and radio come with a have-you-heard wave. One incident reported appears to inform and cue the other(s) in.

The more ghastly the story the faster and fiercely it spreads across the social media jungle.

As the media fill us in on the new murders and analyses of the past ones, the question that boggles many a mind is, is there an outbreak of a ‘murdering’ disease?

Are the cases increasing or has coverage improved? Why have people become so irritable and violent?

REINFORCEMENT

Various studies on the effect of media on audiences and whether there is a link between violence news and audience behaviour have established a link between watching violent or negative news and aggressive behaviour by the viewers.

Prof Graham Davey of the UK intimates that negative TV news is a significant mood changer that leads to sadness and anxiety.

The way the news affects your mood, he says, can also have a larger effect on how you interpret and interact with the world around you.

In some cases, viewers interpret and internalise news alongside their personal worries, and if the circumstances of a violence news item appear similar to those of a person’s situation, after watching it the person is likely to behave equally aggressively.

A man who suspects his wife of cheating on him and watches the news of another man who killed his wife for a similar grievance is likely to act likewise.

Yet some studies have also found a cyclic pattern between violent behaviour and violent content, in which persons exposed to violent content exhibit violent tendencies thereafter.

Conversely, violent people will tend to watch more violent acts on TV.

BALANCING ACT

No doubt, the media has the duty to report the tragic stories according to their newsworthiness, if only to point the vices out and stimulate remedial from the relevant agencies.

But they need to balance the items and tone down the negativity in the bulletins. What is the point of a radio or TV station flooding a bulletin with blood and tears?

Sometimes during such bloody moments, the anchors warn the audience of disturbing images as the camera pans the murder or accident scene.

But while the cameraman may blur the graphic sections, he forgets to cut out the grisly words of the eyewitnesses.

The body or bodies of the victim(s) may be hidden but the neighbour who arrived at the scene first assails your senses with sickening details of the incident.

Prime time news coincides with supper time in most households, so it might be appropriate for the media to serve a balanced diet in the news bulletins.

A nation that grieves everyday can become distressed, irritable and violent.

Mr Kibet is a publishing editor. [email protected]

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