Sonntag, 5. April 2020

Why we are personally affected by the Coronavirus?

The whole Coronavirus Crisis shows one thing very clearly: The Coronavirus has absorbed media attention (coverage and broadcasting time) like no other issue for weeks. Gone seem to be the world's other problems, issues and figureheads. Why is that?

Little to none airtime the climate crisis gets, the burning amazon, as well as the refugee crisis, and more and more people living at or under the poverty level even inside so many countries which consider themselves developed. Gone seems the constant broadcasting about US-President Donald J. Trump, the personal nemesis of so many in media. Gone seems the irk Donald J. Trump provokes for so many in media.

All of a sudden, the world seems to have no other problem anymore except the Coronavirus, of course. Please get me right, the Coronavirus is a problem, a huge one, but it is not the only one. The Coronavirus is one of the many problems the world has. So the question is, why the Coronavirus gets so much media attention, eclipsing even US-President Donald J. Trump?

The Coronavirus Crisis makes obvious that it is a crisis the elites take care of, and that's different from so many other issues. But how so, after the same elites have crippled the health care systems through financial cuts and rationalization?

Arguably the reason for this is that so many public figures, from politicians to celebrities, themselves are infected by the Coronavirus and it's not just a problem of the middle and lower classes anymore. And other than so many regional conflicts and wars - which anti-social personalities all around the world easily can wipe away and forget about - like Yemen (The Forgotten War) -, the Coronavirus potentially affects all of us, the whole world - therefore it's called pandemic and not epidemic.

Seemingly politicians, celebrities and figureheads around the world are outraged by the Coronavirus, because it affects them personally even more than US-President Donald J. Trump and his moves and utterances. It seems as the rubber hits the road with personal experience - when you are affected personally. Apparently elites only take action when personally affected, otherwise only paying lip service - only saying they would take care of the issue but doing very little about it. Here Sir Bertrand Russell's famous philosophical distinction occurs to me between the Knowledge by Description (i.e. reading books, being informed by media) which expands one's perspective versus the Knowledge by Acquaintance (personal experience) which outweighs the former, when it comes to affection and direct action.

So apparently, if politicians were personally affected by poverty, inequality, climate change these issues were elevated to issues of national emergency as well as soon as you can say Jack Robinson.
In other words, if not only the Coronavirus but also poverty, climate change, the burning amazon, you name it, would reach and affect the elites, those were just as engaged and personally motivated to tackle these and the many other burning issues of the world as well.

Fake news vs. news aside, that's not the point in this case, because the fact that the Coronavirus absorbs the world's attention for many weeks shows the very fact that there is a connection of the elites and the media, which are broadcasting mainly about the issues relevant to elites, the rich and powerful, meaning broadcasting chiefly about elites themselves and the content relevant to them which in this case coincides with the Coronavirus also affecting the people directly.

So having in mind media science, philosophers such as Vilém Flusser, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Scheler's differentiation in communicating content ("information", "selection" and "context of use" - "how, when, where and by whom content is processed and used") this Coronavirus Crisis makes one thing more than obvious: Fake news versus news aside - supposing we get the facts via the news - it is also a fact that we only get a selection of facts.

This means, right now so many things happen in the world we never get word of by media and most-likely we never will. In other words, as news time is limited, we only get the relevant content, which is the content news stations think are relevant. This is not necessarily a problem. But the problem is, in times before the Coronavirus Crisis the bulk of the content/facts which news media presented didn't represent the problems of the people, as by most media the burning bread-and-butter issues were mostly considered irrelevant. 

The Coronavirus Crisis is making crystal clear, how little the media cover the crippled health care systems in many countries - that consider themselves developed - in which even in times before the Coronavirus Crisis many people couldn't afford to get proper medical treatment. The Coronavirus Crisis shows that for decades we lived in a careless society, in which people cared less and less for each other - starting from top-down. Now it's a wake-up call for everyone.

In short, naturally only those contents which affect the rich and powerful are most relevant to the rich and powerful. The very fact that chiefly those contents/facts affecting the rich and powerful get the lion share of the media coverage indicates that media in general are too much in liaisons with the rich and powerful, meaning many media proponents neglect most of those facts and contents which mainly affect the underprivileged in society. This makes the media appear as the accomplice of the rich and powerful.

What's relevant? What does this all mean? Relevance is a filtering mechanism also in our developed world so many consider as developed and as information society, as knowledge society, you name it. What does the Coronavirus Crisis show? Our world is a media society, in which media by putting emphasis on certain topics are creating reality (Constructivism). In simple terms, we only get word of what media filtering systems considers relevant to us. And what does this mean to us? It all depends on, where you live and in which circumstances?

In times of Coronavirus Crisis even "liberal media" considering themselves humanist and seeing all people as equal, concentrate its attention on people dying from the Coronavirus in the Western Hemisphere than elsewhere, as if one at risk in the West was more important to broadcast about than someone anywhere else dying silently and uncovered by media. So even so-called liberal media are apparently discriminating against people via selection.

Therefore in effort to be aware of and take responsibility for society I perpetually emphasize the importance for media to self-reflect in order to compensate what media accuse politicians to lack of. 

So media has to refrain from clinching with the elites, celebrities etc. and detaching with those public figures into another sphere, into a bubble of their own. This means media has to constantly abstain from being overly focused with the privileged few and with their luxury problems, in order not to reserve the limited airtime for the privileged few. Otherwise the media's filtering criterion of relevance - what's relevant? - will have a strong leaning to overly focus to cover what's relevant to the rich and powerful.

So for the sake of democracy, participation and representation of all the people, it's important not to chiefly report about the rich and powerful and what's relevant to them, but about the people and their bread-and-butter-issues, otherwise Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution comes to mind quickly and media proponents degrade to underlings, to courtiers in terms of court reporters, even in democracies.

So from media philosophy perspective it's not so much a matter of fake news vs. news and facts - that's a side story, albeit an important one - but the pinnacle question is: Which facts do we get, and in fact the facts of whom? So of course in times of crisis and in effort to show compassion and solidarity we have to remember US-President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous statement: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!" But as the actual Coronavirus Crisis shows clearly that for decades we have had the wrong priorities and now we are all in this together, I want to recall: It's on all of us to take care that society doesn't fall apart!

Dr. Dr. Immanuel Fruhmann
Systemic Analyst and Philosopher

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