To say that the mainstream media “loves hate and hates love” is obvious hyperbole but if there wasn’t an element of truth in it then there would be no need for publications like Positive News. Out of interest I just did a search for “Negative News” and as I expected there does not seem to be a publication of that title but there are plenty of articles on the subject. For example, near the top of the search results was a 2010 article in Psychology Today called Why we love bad news by Ray Williams. So one explanation is that there is indeed far more bad news than good – but that depends on how you define news. Another is that we prefer bad news to good and that the media are simply giving us what they know we want. Finally there is the more conspiratorial explanation that the media is controlled by people in whose interest it is to have a population living in fear.
These days I don’t listen to radio news or regularly read a newspaper, and I haven’t had a television for well over a decade. Instead, like many people, I get the majority of my news online. Of course the mainstream media is online too and for a while I subscribed to the BBC RSS feed, but then Google axed Google Reader and now I actually get a lot of my news via Facebook, which is kind of scary! I could “like” BBC News on Facebook to be kept up to date but I choose not to, saving my likes for a number of small/independent/specialist news sources (one of my favourite is Boing Boing). I also see a lot of news stories that have been shared by my 183 Facebook friends.
So what can I say about what I see now compared to what I would get from reading The Times and watching BBC News? Well I certainly find out about a lot of obscure issues that are not covered by the mainstream media, but what about good news vs bad news? It is hard to say if the balance is that much different. There are certainly a lot of stories that provoke outrage, with headlines like “Cops beat disabled nun to death”. People share them because they want others to be outraged, and perhaps do something to bring the cops to justice, or start a revolution. Some are in the form of petitions which I sometimes sign, and some are even successful in achieving their goal, but most probably have no significant effect (you could sit in front of a computer all day signing petitions but if you want to change the world then there are probably much better ways to go about it). I also see a lot of posts that support the idea that we are moving towards a totalitarian police state. I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea, but its proponents are clearly selective in their choice of evidence and it is important to take into account the echo chamber effect. I think we need to have some hope that things can get better (lest we just give up entirely) so here are some positive (in my opinion) things that have happened recently which you may not have noticed amongst the tide of doom and gloom.
- On March 31st the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Japan to halt Antarctic whaling.
- On April 2nd, in a move praised by Ben Goldacre (author of “Bad Pharma”), MEPs voted by a huge majority to adopt the new EU Clinical Trials Regulation.
- On April 3rd MEPs approved the latest draft EU telecoms package, which would not only ban mobile roaming charges from December 2015 but also protect net neutrality.
- On April 7th Norfolk County Councillors voted to scrap the controversial Kings Lynn incinerator scheme (hope yet for our own local anti-incinerator campaign).
- On April 8th the European Union’s highest court ruled invalid the EU data retention directive that required telecoms companies to store communications data of EU citizens for up to two years.
And that is it for my (cue fanfare) 100th blog entry.