Our mass nightmares are not going to go away anytime soon, they will likely get worse before they get any better.
Xpress Pearl on fire off Colombo Port
This is the time of our collective hallucinations. Terrified friends last week were talking about how non-existent triple ticks on WhatsApp messages were a give-away of Government snooping. Never mind that the whole endeavour of monitoring private messages is made meaningless if there are set patterns that would indicate that they were not only monitored but clearly categorised. Colour coded of all things.
A ship was burning off the coast. Its snaking smoke plumes and the darkened beaches evoking images from Dante’s Inferno. A Facebook post highlighted a graphic on the possible spread of the plastics and other chemicals from the ship and said, “It looks like she is bleeding out.” She here was Sri Lanka. It did look like that.
“One of the worst things about lying in a COVID ward is listening to others gasping for air, calling for their loved ones and dying while fearing you might be next,” Namini Wijedasa, wrote over the weekend in a searing account of a recovered COVID patient.
It was an account from a horror movie. Just that it was very real, no special effects. It was also a scene that could repeat over and over again.
Neither of these two images is hyperbole. They are very real and very nightmarish.
The narrative is radical, Toni Morrison wrote. The narrative of our times would be nothing like ever seen before if we are honest storytellers.
Like narrative journalism is radical. It is rebellious because it goes against the perceived truth. What is more of a concern right now is not the truth we want to be the truth. It is the truth that others are superimposing on us to be the truth. A truth that is politically manufactured.
"When we post information for their clickbait value – the inhumane caning of an infant or a child, the removal of a body from a COVID-19 ward – without placing them in perspective, without giving the full story, without assessing how the details help others make informed decisions, it is not journalism. It is the desire for virality through exaggeration. Simply put it’s horror-porn."
Governments have been doing this and probably think it is part of the public works. But now anyone with a phone can attempt to relay that version of the truth to anyone else. That is the danger. That is the danger that journalism first needs to confront and then needs to be the viable alternative for.
Journalism cannot however be that alternative if it lacks the skills as a community. More so when that lack of skills is generational and chronic. That is the dangerous crossroads where Sri Lankan media finds itself.
I was recently talking to a colleague about my career as a journalist. Starting at a time when the war was at its worst when covering bomb blasts and suicide attacks in populated areas was a run of the mill task. There were no social media. Even SMS was expensive for some of us at the bottom of the tier.
The information ecosystem however was simple. There was never a multitude of competing narratives, some manufactured. Even if there were, unless there was direct buy-in from legacy media, which there was at times, these narratives would find it hard to stand out.
People trusted journalism, much more so, very much so than now.
The global and local history of this pandemic would be written quite differently. At every signpost, there are dozens if not 100s of competing stories. Journalism has enough of a hard time trying to disengage the chaff from the facts. The task is made even more tougher if your storytelling is influenced not by the truth, but by a desire to manufacture the truth.
When we post information for their clickbait value – the inhumane caning of an infant or a child, the removal of a body from a COVID-19 ward – without placing them in perspective, without giving the full story, without assessing how the details help others make informed decisions, it is not journalism. It is the desire for virality through exaggeration. Simply put it’s horror-porn.
Our mass nightmares are not going to go away anytime soon, they will likely get worse before they get any better. The truth-seekers can do well not to add to the screams.
The writer is a journalism researcher and a writer. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org