Nepali Times
Here And There
The next big bad thing


Why do I have this funny feeling that we're all missing the point, that we're heading for big trouble irrespective, or perhaps because of, our 24/7 media culture, internet-driven ideas and panic tendencies fully stoked by cynical and dishonest world leaders?

Why do I think that the battle with radical Islam is a farce, that the west's real enemies are poverty, disease, alienation, illiteracy, inequality and the tendency of global elites to plunder and pander?

Perhaps it's because I am in the media, and I do surf the internet and I occasionally feel that fear that my leaders like to induce in me. I know my limitations as a journalist and information gatherer; I know the power of panic and the easy loathing of the \'other\' that comes from paranoia.

In the battle for viewers, rating and advertising dollars, global television and even the best newspapers are at best instruments of the moment. They have little choice but to follow existing or stage managed agendas. Even when those are clearly false or misleading, if they come from powerful stages or top leaders then they are repeated as if true.

By the time iconoclastic reporters examine the pronouncements of presidents and prime ministers thoroughly, exposing flaws and fallacies, the damage has been done-a country invaded, a village obliterated, economies left in ruins, a death toll accelerated, a process out of control.

From time to time, the media looks for the next \'big bad thing\' and gives it headline coverage. But it's almost always too little, too late or just plain wrong.

Climate change only battled its way into popular consciousness because of Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth and the efforts of committed scientists, writers and activists to force the issue past corporate and US presidential malignant denial. Public health threats like SARS and bird flu pandemics become matters of concern when people die but not before, when it might have been possible to save lives and establish a truly effective and humane health care system for the planet.

Concerns about genetic engineering arise in mainstream media consciousness years after products made in laboratories reach the market and make activists angry. A leading US scientist is applying for a patent on the first wholly created form of life. Bad news is, it's a bacterium. Made from chemicals in the lab. Now that's scary.

What it isn't, is front page news. Instead, we have the latest line on Iraq, Afghanistan, terror, and Paris Hilton. Endless momentarism, diversion, spin. There's no sense of the real flow of history, or the truth of a situation. It's all reduced to what one side says, and the other side's response, to numbers of dead and injured, to scripted rhetoric that adds nothing to comprehension or leadership.

You can find attempts to broaden this paltry agenda throughout the media, but in obscure places, back pages, late broadcasts, obscure corners of the internet. But without the wallop of the big headline or the expensive news anchor's sonorous tones, consciousness is not raised to anything like a critical mass.

Individual journalists, editors, and producers struggle every day to get insightful and helpful material into their medium, but often fall afoul of the daily demands for sensation, sentiment, and voyeurism. Yet the troubled times we live in require so much more. The next big bad thing might just be lurking, and all we know for sure is that it will take us by surprise.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)