This article was initially published by Shout Out UK
Staying informed, holding accountable
The global press has a responsibility to report on atrocities, ensuring we stay informed. Vox has described the media’s response to the Uighur genocide as ‘muted’. But it’s not just the crimes against humanity in Xinjiang that are being underreported. This tendency speaks of a broader issue across the global press when it comes to reporting atrocities. Typically, we hear about these events in the media for a couple of days at most before they disappear into the background, rarely to be spoken of again. This intermittent reporting undermines our ability, as a global community, to hold individuals and groups to account.
Given that media organisations are fully aware that the vast majority of the public rely on the press for much of their knowledge of current events, it becomes incumbent on them to fully inform people. What’s more, reporting accurately and reliably is crucial in an age of misinformation, disinformation and fake news. While governments certainly should keep people informed, this is not their primary function. Governments have also been known to dirty their hands, either directly or indirectly, when it comes to funding questionable nations or doing business with them. For this reason, they can be unreliable sources of information when it comes to reporting wrongs being committed.
Pushing for greater coverage
Media organisations are keenly aware that if crimes go underreported, governments that permit or commit atrocities will escape accountability. After all, an underreported crime is easier to forget. This is why organisations such as Yet Again work to push for greater press coverage of global atrocities and crimes against humanity, arguing:
‘In order to effectively challenge the proliferation of modern atrocity, we must first develop an understanding as to how and why it occurs. Perpetrators act with impunity as long as we unknowingly look past their transgression’.
If the public is not made aware of these transgressions governments will continue to commit them. Though we are still seeing headlines about the Uighur genocide, they are sparse. And where are the headlines surrounding Tibet? Occupied by the People’s Liberation Army in 1950 and the Dalai Lama exiled in India, the region has been under China’s illegal control ever since. Despite this ongoing injustice, there remains very little press coverage of the plight of Tibetans.
Political Education and a Free Press
A free press goes hand-in-hand with political education. Political literacy provides the necessary understanding of how politics plays out in real life, while a free press ensures that the public has access to certain information in order to hold governments to account. Without a free press, we are grossly uninformed in a complex and fast-paced world. Similarly, without political literacy, we are left with a large volume of competing news stories and little ability to discriminate between them or form opinions.
Political Literacy and Press Freedom are therefore both equally necessary. Jack Street, Founder and Director of the Demographica Network, says:
‘The cornerstones of a functioning democracy are a free press and a population that understands how they can engage in the political system. Without Political Education and Media Literacy being taught in schools, can we really say that we live in a free and participatory democracy?’
We should be ensuring that press freedoms are protected and political literacy exists. People need reliable, accurate agents of information so that when atrocities happen, they are informed and can take action.