“This is not what is actually happening in Greece right now” she said surely. That sentence was enough to ruin all my efforts to impress my Greek friend. I was trying to show off that I was following all the news coverage about the Greek local and regional elections during the weekend. But with a few to-the point analysis, she basically nullified everything I had read about the election results in the Western media. However, the news items I managed to find about the Greek local elections were all in English-language mainstream newspapers and websites of major news outlets. They quickly jumped on the bandwagon praising the Prime Minister George Papandreou’s leading skills in his bruised and battered country in the midst of a severe financial crisis. By interpreting the election results as the victory of the ruling PASOK party, the coverage claimed that he had survived this big test successfully. According to my Greek friend, it wasn’t that simple. The coverage of the American and British media was lacking the depth, the factual details by having an obvious bias in favor of IMF-backed government.
The important point of course is not the Greek politics but how shallow, simplistic and even distorted mainstream Western media can portray an unfamiliar land. Oftentimes I feel the same way when I read about Turkish social and political issues and debates from a foreign perspective. Most of the time a feeling of frustration fills my heart.
If we think about the reasons of this situation, the first thing comes to mind is the severe cutbacks in international news coverage in print and broadcast journalism. Coverage of international news from most of the countries declined significantly in recent years in response to corporate demands for larger profits and an increasingly fragmented audience. Those cutbacks led to decrease in quality of foreign correspondence and contributed to the ignorance of the readers in the Western world. Many news magazines and prestigious news outlets drastically reduced their foreign correspondent corps throughout the years. Efforts to chase ratings and circulation numbers ended up with a shift to more entertaining and soft news. The news outlets became more and more reluctant to keep full-time correspondents abroad. We all know that maintaining a foreign staff is expensive. However, reductions in foreign coverage cannot be attributed solely to high costs. The lack of good correspondents who know the culture and language of a particular country means that there is more risk of mistakes and more simplistic approach to the issues.
Ironically we have a large variety of news outlets today including online news sites, blogs, social media, etc. in an age of information abundance. Despite of living in this hype called globalization, we are becoming more and more ignorant every day. Today’s media consumers are exposed to sound-bites, tweets, headlines with no in-depth analysis or understanding what is really happening around the world. I think the biggest challenge is to somehow educate the public about the importance of foreign news and create a demand for in-depth reporting and informed interpretation of global events. Otherwise, we will keep giving the same reaction as did my friend: “this is not what is actually happening in my country right now.”