MASS MEDIA AND THEIR ROLE
IN THE FIGHT AGAINST RACISM AND XENOPHOBIA
The changes that we observe today appear to emerge from a sequence of events related to the advent of modern technology and the expansion of communications. Any analysis seeking to define this era’s infrastructure would have to take into account the changes that communications and information technologies wrought upon it; the Mass Media’s economic standards and their ideological shifting; the quantitative and qualitative preferences of the public; but above all, they would have to question the role of the Mass Media in social phenomena and current events. We shall endeavour to scrutinize this subject, by identifying its components as well as it in whole, although Greek bibliography on the topic proved to be limited, as we discovered during our research.
The Mass Media had an impact on the societies of our century: they provided channels for broadening educational horizons, for cultivating democratic morals, for relaying cultural values to the ends of the earth; however, they were also the cause of society’s perverse disfigurement. Naturally, the M.M. were gradually swayed by society, towards dynamic, new orientations: they were led into compulsory alignment with worldwide human petitions, albeit permeated with society/s pathologies and the symptoms of decadence.
The Greek Press, newspapers and journalists, are undoubtedly undergoing a deep crisis. The crisis is multiple in character. It firstly has to do with the very political and ethical reason for their existence; it involves their relations with the citizen-reader and generally speaking, the public. It also involves the constitutionally acquired status of the Press as an essential element of a democratic regime. It affects the quality standards of the political, financial, social and moral word expressed by the Press. It furthermore defines the educational horizons, the low standard of education and learning of journalists, and the policies of newspaper and M.M. owners who are basically interested in pursuing higher circulation or ratings through misleading, opportunist techniques. The sum of these aspects of the crisis questions the M.M.s/ very essence of existence, and simultaneously reflects the even deeper crisis of the European and Greek societies. Finally, it questions our relations with our selves, with the truth behind life and its meanings. For this reason, it can be characterized as an “identity crisis”. And it should be confronted as such, otherwise, it is useless discussing symptoms over a corpse.
3. A universal drama.
These thoughts acquire meaning, when confronting the agony for tomorrow and the anxiety which is ever-present in a universal drama : that of racism and xenophobia.
From the Orthodox Theological point of view, which does not discern religion - in a Nestorian manner - separately from social life, the phenomenon of racism is intrinsically theological; not only when it appears in its typical, religious form, but also when it appears as a socio-political or anthropological phenomenon.
If only the science of sociology - and pursuantly the M.M. – would approach the phenomenology of racism and highlight how it is socially related, then Theology would reach even deeper, into its “ontology”.
Racism – an aversion to the other person – is in essence a demonic state of being, a “heresy”. It is an outright absolutist perception of a creature - the human persona problem as apparent today, in severed relationships and waning participation.
In modern civilization, freedom is won and communion is lost. By de-spiritualizing and individualizing his life, man has become both liberated and isolated. It has now become perfectly obvious that the intrinsic metaphysical problem of modern, neoteric man is the convergence of freedom and communion, the coordination of privacy and socialization, and a composition of autonomy and coexistence.
Modern man/s quest is not for existence, but co-existence; this should not mean striving for personal survival, but for a communal life. It is exactly this vital need that we must respond to: help man to acknowledge his existence as a persona; teach him that he doesn/t simply exist, but that he co-exists, not for the purpose of surviving as an individual, but for co-existing within a community.
4. On Symptoms.
Racism is a word that is not pleasant to any ear, not even of journalists. In Germany for example, whenever the word “racism” is mentioned, it invariably leads to confusion. Many journalists try to avoid this term and instead use the word “xenophobia”. In academic circles, it is amiably referred to as “nationalism”.
In the report of the round-table discussion with the topic “The role of the Press and the M.M. on issues of racism and xenophobia” which was held in Athens in 1995 under the organizational auspices of the Hellenic Centre of European Studies, the following observations were made:
a) racism in Greek society is underrated as a problem, in the conscience of journalists.
b) it is a fact that a portion of the Press in Greece often incites racist behaviour, and
c) unfortunately no authorities have ever considered confronting the literature and the journalists responsible for inciting racist and xenophobic behaviour.
Notwithstanding several journalists/ noteworthy and sincere efforts, we continue to have reservations and wish to express our concern, as regards the M.M.s/ awareness of their responsibility – on account of the way they handle these issues - and their potential to contribute towards the fight against racism and xenophobia,
a. The stereotypes.
“Insecurity and fear are responsible for us turning our backs to refugees, and remaining indifferent to their plight. Greeks are slowly becoming racists, because they are inadequately informed.. How well prepared is our country, to accept, to understand and to support the refugees/ dream which brought them here? One glance alone at news bulletins or at newspaper headings is enough, for one to comprehend their new ordeal (Calvary).” Keeping a citzen informed and ensuring he is sensitized in issues pertaining to respect for human rights should never cease.
It is not current events, it is not news broadcasting, it is not educational programs in themselves: it is basically the way in which the M.M. manipulate social issues and situations: for example, the reality of people/s homelessness may be used – unperceived by anyone, at a moment when the viewer, reader or listener is ultimately relaxed and unsuspecting – to produce and to reproduce a stereotype, by selectively applying the appropriate colour and tone of voice during a presentation, thus dynamically forging a relationship through this presentation, into a mechanism of relationship with the world in general. This is an aggressive stereotype and deeply racist; it is the product of a perception which has no tolerance towards the different, nor towards familiarization, or even towards the tolerance of difference.
Let us refer to an example: it has become “fashionable”, in cases where punishable acts have been committed by persons of a minority, to mention the offender/s nationality, subsequently causing these phenomena to spread, into every minority. Repeated reference to nationality eventually forms a convincing image of a reality in the public/s mind. This image becomes ingrained, so, inevitably, reference to the offenders/ nationality will be considered natural and proper.
In juxtaposition, there are journalists who believe that they can defeat these negative cliches, by presenting positive images and stories about “good” refugees or minority citizens; this behaviour can often prove to be equally racist.
It is strange, how a person need not be a declared racist to embrace racist stereotypes or to behave in a racist manner, because most of the time, this occurs unconsciously and without intent. Winnicott wrote: “man suffers from repressed aggression, and yet does not possess any biological mechanisms to defend himself from this aggression”. Evidently, the womb of racism is located in the human persona; because of this, racism as a condition is able to infiltrate both society and each person individually. This is precisely the crux of its universality.
In Germany, discussions are taking place in newspaper and magazine editing departments, to determine how well journalists perceive and report their themes, unbiased by racist ideas. This is no easy feat. The complexity of this situation is apparent, when foreign journalists publish reports on foreigners….
b. Projection of extremes.
Another thing we have often observed, was the characteristically far-fetched way in which the M.M. present themes pertaining to minorities and refugees. Their tendency to project excerpts of extreme incidents, or seemingly extreme incidents, without taking the trouble to “scientifically” comprehend the inherent problematics of such social issues, has created a role model for communication which is not governed by a sense of the average, or the processes of learning and describing, nor any sense of community or contact. Perhaps this is what modern-day man prefers. It is not by coincidence that the movies “The English Patient” and “The Solist” – both of which portray among other things extremes in human disposition and behaviour, and the obliteration of the average – were both awarded OSCARs. This only proves that man is moved by and attracted to extremities. And this is an observation which should arouse deep concern.
c. The voice of the Media.
In Greece, information is relayed to the public in an amateur way most of the time, inasmuch as it perambulates us, around a non-varying, homogenous state of ambiguity. In this way, it r emains non-questioning and over-simplistic, when it has to report on more serious problems; problems that may be slow-moving, but are nevertheless very important ones.
In this age of “complex, deductional logic”, journalistic expression should be thinking, growing, oxidizing, maturing and ageing productively. In other words, it should be generating and transmitting information and meanings, not for the sake of an “inert life” but for the sake of reality, which possesses a dialectic and teleological character. A reality in which oppositions and differentiation are not nurtured; where the other/s psyche is not exploited, and the human persona is not injured. Besides, what is the purpose of any communication, if relationships become obsolete? Its function is to nurse the wounds caused by aggressiveness or conflict, and to be a contributing factor in bridging people.
It is a half truth - therefore a falsity - to speak and write against racism and xenophobia on one hand, condemning the incredibly degrading exploitation and abuse of women and children from Albania, Poland and former Yugoslavian countries, and on the other hand promote the exploitation of such persons as common, lifeless merchandise, in assorted advertisements that are printed by the Press. It is a sanctification of humanity/s inhumanity. It is a materialistic cynicism.
d. Citizens, not consumers.
It is absurd to refer to racist phenomena, and yet to envisage the person involved as merely a decorative element thereof, essentially excuding him from this phenomenon.
This is not the way to cultivate the sense of participation or the potential to participate in public affairs; on the contrary, it only serves consumption, expediency, and unlimited personal interest; a social Darwinism, permeated by an unrestrained ideological cynicism. Perhaps this is what social reality commands; “If it doesn/t sell, it doesn/t live” is a characteristic slogan, indicative of this mentality.
We must however learn, that we are addressing citizens, not consumers. “….and a citizen is not simply a unit within an existing group; a unit, whose rights and obligations are conventionally regulated for the acquisition of its optimal egocentric needs. “Citizen” is an honorary title: a citizen participates in the loftiest honour and achievement, by validating a true lifestyle; the status of citizenship is not a circumstantial privilege, it is the primeval essence of one/s personal life which gives a special meaning to every aspect of daily living.”
I believe that this civilian responsibility cannot and should not be disregarded. Otherwise, the criticism regarding the M.M. “crisis” is no more than an alibi for personal indifference (or disability), inherent to the decline of a civilization which discards all authentic questions on the meaning of existence, into the all-eliminating pit of banality.
People should be capable of imagining and understanding themselves in other ways, and not shirk their responsibilities. This is the M.M./s vital role : to provide citizens with the opportunity of seeing themselves differently. Only then, will they have contributed in a positive manner, to the issue at hand.
4. On the transcendence of the phenomenon, or, about the transfiguration of the vice.
We must initiate a process of perpetual resistance against every possible display – whether revealed or latent – of racism and xenophobia. Constitutional rights are not enough, international protection is not enough, public statements are not enough. What is immediately required, is a community conscience and a community reaction, such that our everyday behaviour – a micro-scale indicator of community response - verifies the absence of racism, xenophobia and social hatred.
A continuous but discreet monitoring of problems within the Greek and European territories, is imperative. These problems invariably influence and will continue to influence the current state of events, given that, quite often, the M.M. reproduce misunderstandings which we gradually come to accept as valid facts.
The M.M. should re-evaluate – with due honesty and sensitivity - their stance towards the entire issue of racism, and journalists should introspectively clarify how they personally perceive the world, so that they may effectively avert and not encourage such instances.
The capacity to avoid racist situations in the M.M. does not comprise an ideological belief for journalists; it is, among other things, a practical problem that they should confront, and is also a reason for the appropriate education and further training.
Another thing we should ask ourselves is: should minorities have a voice in the M.M. and how is it possible for this voice to be heard? This would be an effort to not only provide responsible information, but also a positive form of communication. Successful communication will familiarize, pacify and generate confidence, whereas unsuccessful communication will alienate and arouse uncertainty and fear.
Finally, something very important for those people who are writers and journalists. It concerns their use of language. “Mortification” of the language will open the way to a levelling out and to tyranny. Language identifies with the freedom of beings, and it can reach explosive dimensions, when it is called upon to safeguard identities, as well as the existential and political presence and the personal freedom of people. If, therefore, thought cannot find an outlet for expression by means of an austere and precise language, it will be stifled and diminished. Journalistic expression must be upgraded and remain steadfast in its resistance to the progressive degeneration of the language, the consequence of which, is the direct submission and minimalization of thought.
In an age where the relation “Me-You” has been replaced by the instrumental relation “Me-It” – and not only in our inter-personal relationships, but with ourselves as well – each one of us, as the suffering being of this story, is called upon to vanquish this vice with passion, to overcome death through our belief in resurrection, to win history/s war, to overcome compromise with conventionality, to love the human persona and to undertake in order to heal.
Fleeing far from death,
yet leaving our life behind..
We departed from our past,
yet we left behind our future.
We deserted our homes,
to run towards hope.
Only, there was not enough time
to carry such an extra load in our flight..
So we rid ourselves of the burden of hope
just as we rid ourselves of the other things
which we could not take with us :
our homes and hearths,
our trees and flowers.
We felt that this escape
was even more terrible
than staying where we lived.
But there was no alternative.
We were even departing from God….
From now on, wherever we go,
we shall be strangers,
we shall be guests,
we shall be wanderers,
In a strange land.
And though not one of us is a common, ordinary person,
We share a common name :
Who dares to understand our immeasurable pain?
We are invited to reply to this question. To do this, it is imperative that we attain repentance, transfiguration, learning, education, globality. Man has not lost this potential. Surely those serving journalism as well.