Not all sides of the story deserve a fair go

What do we want from the news? We want something balanced and unbiased. Something that presents the facts as they are and alerts us to important issues.

So when we look at something like this, we think it looks legitimate. Something that gives both sides a fair go.

However, The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change asserts that while 95% of climate scientists believe global warming is happening, only HALF of the general public believe that scientists are in this much agreement.

So really, shows like I Can Change Your Mind About Climate don’t present the reality of the climate change ‘debate’. In reality, the TV show presents both sides as equal, with 50/50 representation. And that is the problem with a lot of the media in front of us today: it suffers from problems of balance and bias.

Ward, in Journalism ethics and climate change reporting in a period of intense media uncertainty, investigates whether journalists have an ethical responsibility to report only that which is supported by the majority of scientific study or whether they should report and amplify the ‘unheard voices’  of climate skeptics.

At-a-glance: The immunisation debate is an SBS report that again analyses both sides of the debate. It has arguments both for and against. However, even though the report admits that most scientists and parents agree that vaccination’s benefits far outweigh any risks, the report is presented as though both sides of the story have equal standing.

This today tonight report does a similar thing: presenting the debate as something that has two equal sides.

So what have we learnt? Just because you present both sides of the argument in equal proportion does not mean that they are actually fairly represented. As in the cases of the Climate Change debate and the Immunisation debate, both sides ARE NOT equal, and should not be represented as such.

It is only when the media presents controversy in a way that is proportional to the extent of the controversy that the general public will be able to make up their minds using facts. Different opinions are essential to a democracy, but they should always be presented proportionally.

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So called “News”

Most people are at least a little bit aware that what we see on the news is not strictly all there is to know.

Most people also suspect that many of our news outlets have their own agendas.

However, the extent to which this exists might surprise you.

English: Russia Today logo
English: Russia Today logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we take the example of the Arab Spring, discussed by Peter Lee-Wright in ‘News Values: An Assessment of News Priorities Through a Comparative Analysis of Arab Spring Anniversary Coverage’, it was covered somewhat sparingly around the world. There are many reasons why: deadlines, difficulty of access to the Middle East, various other news priorities, political agendas and the need for international events to be filtered to suit a domestic audience. Considering the great upheaval, and its potential impacts, this seems a very sad thing.

TV news especially finds it difficult to report on events which are difficult for journalists to access. However, with the widespread of smartphones, it has now become much simpler for news outlets to crowdsource footage and images. In Australia, for example, in the Brisbane floods of 2011, or the Victorian bushfires, many people took footage or photos of how the natural disasters were affecting them. Some of this makes it to TV. However, in places such as Syria, this information is far harder to come by, and many news outlets simply find the task too difficult.

Another recent example is of news coverage from the day of the Boston bombings 2013. Though this was of course a tragic event, a bombing in Iraq that killed dozens received little to no coverage across Australia’s major TV stations. This is a worrying trend, because if our ‘news’ only reflects events in some portions of the world, then how can we expect to have accurate knowledge about the rest of the world? As we can see in the following clip, U.S tragedies receive far more coverage than those in other parts of the world.

There is hope though. News outlets such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today often cover international events, particularly middle eastern ones, with greater depth of analysis than many traditional news outlets.

Globalisation is happening. It is not enough to simply cover domestic events. What happens in the rest of the world now has the potential to affect all of us. It is important that we know that the evening news bulletin is not all there is to know about what’s happening in the world.

Is this a joke?

We all know that when it comes to sharing TV between cultures, sometimes it works, and sometimes it just doesn’t. Especially in the case of comedy, TV in translation is difficult to master.

For example:

Kath and Kim U.S version = FAILURE

Kath & Kim
Kath & Kim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst The Office U.S version = SUCCESS

The Office cast in the third season
The Office cast in the third season (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a couple of different ways of transferring TV content.

  1. Owners can sell the format and/or script for a TV show, so buyers can recreate a similarly styled show appropriated to appeal to a different culture.
  2. Owners can export the entire show, unaltered.

Friends is an example of a TV show that was exported, unaltered, all over the world, to places like Australia, Bulgaria, France, Portugal and Russia. It’s even been popular in China, with the creation a real life, fully functional “Central Perk” cafe (see the clip below). So we can see,  even though China and the U.S have vastly different cultures, some TV shows are transferable between cultures. Perhaps, as the clip suggests, Friends is successful because it focuses on the universal theme of friendship.

Other shows, such as Masterchef, the Voice, X Factor, Dancing with the Stars and Big Brother, are sold as formats, and have been successfully appropriated in a variety of cultures.

What makes television work in different cultures?

Well, no one is really sure. But it is easy to tell why a TV show fails. Sue Turnbull (2008) writes about why Kath and Kim (US) failed. It seems that the most significant reason was casting. The American characters of Kath and Kim were two slim, attractive women who did not at all convey the deluded nature of the Australian originals. As Turnbull notes, the humour in Kath and Kim was derived directly from the characters’ perceptions of themselves as different from reality.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of luck involved in exporting and importing foreign television. Success or failure is dependent on a multitude of factors specific to different cultures, such as political concerns, recent local events and cultural history. What one culture ‘gets’, another doesn’t.

The good news is, with globalisation, sharing of television is occurring more and more frequently, and so we can expect to see more TV shows from all around the world. It’s quite possible the reason some shows fail is that they are simply too ‘foreign’. With increased integration, perhaps it will be easier to understand and share TV, and especially, the world’s comedies.

In the meantime though….

References:

Turnbull, S 2008, ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught It in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in
Translation’ Metro Magazine Issue 159

Hollywood, Bollywood….Brazil?

We’ve all heard of Hollywood.  It’s that multi-billion dollar film industry that lives in the US. If you were paying attention to my previous posts, you’ll know it’s a media capital. Certainly, many of the films I watch are from Hollywood. Iron Man, The Hunger Games and the Avengers all come to mind.

The thing is, even though a film might originate from Hollywood, or Bollywood, this doesn’t mean the film is purely American or Indian.

As David Schaefer and Kavita Karan (2010) talk of James Cameron’sAvatar” draws on multiple elements of Indian culture, such as the appearance of the local “Na’vi”. So, even though “Avatar” is a Hollywood film, it has significant Indian influences.

Does this constitute a TRANSNATIONAL FILM? Transnational films are those which involve more than one nation in their production or influence. So, even though generally we would classify “Avatar” as an American film, it actually represents transnational cinema.

The Motorcycle Diaries” is another interesting case. The film’s plot tells of Che Guevara‘s motorcycle journey, before he became a famous revolutionary.

These are just some of the credits:

It was filmed in several locations, including Peru, Chile and Venezuela.  The language is Spanish. So we can see that “The Motorcycle Diaries” is a very transnational film, with contributions from all over the world. Director Walter Salles was born in Rio de Janeiro, raised in France and the US, before settling in Brazil, which again emphasises the way in which cinema is becoming much more globally integrated.

This interview with Walter Salles is very helpful in explaining his experiences as a director making films that draw on cultures different from his own:

His perspective on his role as a global film maker is made clear by this:

Cinema, for me, has always been an instrument to understand that the world was much larger, and much more polyphonic than I thought it would be at first…” 

He also states this, about his experiences creating “The Motorcycle Diaries”:

…yes I was a Brazilian film maker to start with, but I also understood that I was part of a larger cultural territory which was Latin America, and…it’s as if my house had become a little bit larger than it was until that day.”

What does this all mean? What’s the point?

In many ways, film has always been transnational, and it is only recently that we have begun to take note of it. Directors, such as Walter Salles, actors and producers travel all over the world, and movies from supposedly separate nations involve themes and influences from each other. Globalisation has meant that transnational cinema has become more noticeable. Increasingly, we see more films from media capitals other than Hollywood.

The point is, we, as audiences, are witnessing a more integrated, globalised film industry. This can surely only be positive, as we see more of the world than ever before.

References:

Schaefer, D, Karan, K 2010, ‘Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema in global film flows’, Global Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 309-316.