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Fatima Arshad

The two faces of TV

By Fatima Arshad, Suzanne Cory High School


Since its creation in 1927, the television set has only had one screen

Not two, not three – but one.

And that screen – that face – has captured the events of the world.

Or, so we think.

Despite our current Covid crisis many of us sit in our bubbles in the comfort of our homes and watch the nice lady on screen talk about the current weather. We laugh when we hear about the recent political scandal and humour ourselves over the lives of celebrities.

And we are happy. We are happy because the screen in front of us has told my family, and yours, that there’s nothing too horrible happening that we can’t overcome. It has told us that although we have our fair share of issues, that we as a family will not be separated or starved or tortured.

What many of us don’t know is that there is another face. And it’s hidden. It is hidden because the media has deemed it unworthy of coverage. And this is precisely why we lack so much awareness and action – because we are essentially blind to it.

That screen displays a child currently begging for a peaceful life in war-torn Syria. It shows us that there are hungry children, fighting for their lives and their families lives in Palestine. It gives us a horrifying close-up of a pregnant mother lying dead in the rubble of the recent Kabul attacks in Afghanistan. And as we look into her eyes, we see that her last memory was of death and destruction right before she gave birth to new life.

And as I say this, I wonder, are these images, perhaps, too graphic for you? Are they making you feel a little uncomfortable? Can we only bear this reality when reading an action-packed novel, or watching thriller films?

See, I realise that whilst we’re updated with the most nuanced of updates, war-ridden countries continue to suffer even further under the lack of coverage in the mainstream media. One month ago, the UN declared Yemen to be experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in existence. Twenty million are food insecure, 4 million are displaced and over 80% of the population is in dire need of shelter, water and safety. And, every 10 minutes, a Yemeni child dies from hunger and disease.
We are so comfortable in our cocoon of privilege, that when we hear about these issues, we shake our heads and move on.

And it certainly doesn’t help at all, that the mainstream media chooses to ignore this.

And what’s upsetting is that I can go on and on with these statistics, but many of you may have heard this from me for the first time. Not the mainstream news channels, not as the hot trending topic. It’s not even on the first page of the international news agencies. I guarantee if you switch on your television right now, you’d get absolutely none of this.

Let me give you some context. A year ago, the Notre Dame Cathedral in France caught fire. This incident blazed across mainstream news channels for months on end. Might I remind you, there were no deaths and no serious injuries. The world was in uproar because we valued this building, so much. The donations exceeded $1 billion and the repairs, at minimum, cost $300 million. If you do the math, you have approximately $700 million left over. I’m not trying to devalue the importance of this historical building. But when have we seen the plight of poverty-stricken countries displayed on our television screens to the same extent?

If we can raise so much for a building after such awareness, then why not a child?

Laura Otten, executive director at La Salle University said ‘When there’s a tragedy like a hurricane, and you can see immediate crisis and agony, there is empathy,’ she said.’ But if you are talking about an ongoing set of conditions that doesn’t get enough coverage,’ such as poverty, ‘it’s a lot harder for people to summon that empathetic response that leads to giving.’

Essentially, the narrative that she’s leading is that we are desensitised and ignorant. If we don’t see it, we’re blind to its reality. If it’s not covered by mainstream media, then it doesn’t happen.

We as Australians have experienced firsthand what being afraid is like. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we emptied grocery stores and convenience stores for toilet paper and sanitising products. We hoarded supplies because we were afraid of imminent hunger and starvation. Our rationality flew out the window and we stockpiled. Now imagine living through that every day, that sudden fear and terror of the unknown.

No child deserves to wonder what they’ll eat the next day. No child should know what the sound of gunshots and explosions is like. Expecting rationality from them suddenly becomes irrational. We don’t televise their issues enough. Mainstream media has all but ignored them.

Ladies and gentleman, the solution is not difficult at all.

We need to talk and we need to educate. If thinking about it causes you distress, then good – because it should. It’s our reality. We need to give a voice to the voiceless.
We’ve proven that we have the resources to help.

We’ve proven that we understand their fear.

As director-general of WHO, Dr Tedros noted ‘awareness is key to sustainable development’.

We need to raise our voices. It’s bad enough that this sort of inhumanity exists in our world, but to deliberately hide it away is what makes us inhuman. Because when we look at those issues, we see numbers and statistics. We don’t see people; we don’t see families torn apart. A good portion of us who don’t actively look into these issues aren’t even aware this is happening. And this ignorance is fatal, because there’s a difference between knowing and seeing, and we don’t see enough. Once you see it you can’t deny its reality.

I want children on the other side of the world who've just lost their parents to know that I am here for them, that we are here for them. Because, believe it or not, that television set sitting in your home can do more than just entertain you. It can educate you, it can empower you and it can move you.

We need transparency. After all, TV has only ever had one face, not two.