Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

On Media, Backlash, and Being Human

You would have to be living under a very large rock to have missed the story. A princess, in hospital for a severe form of morning sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum, which a dear friend experienced with her pregnancies and which I can best describe as months of non-stop puking). Worldwide media focused on the hospital where the princess was being treated. And two Australian radio DJs who decided to pull a prank and try to get through to the hospital, a prank that worked and that ended with them receiving intimate details of the pregnant's princess' condition. And then, the tragedy - the death, presumed suicide, of the nurse at the hospital who patched the call through, believing the pranksters were indeed family of the princess.

I think it was news that stopped everyone short, that shocked all of us. And then, the backlash. The calls for the firing of the DJs, and for sanctions against the station that approved airing the prank. But it was far worse, as I found when I visited the Facebook page for the station and found over 13,000 comments on it, most crying for termination - but some far more vitriolic, and wishing death on the radio DJs. I read the comments with a deeply heavy heart because whatever you think of the DJs actions - whether they were wrong or bear responsibility or whether they were just doing what DJs and tv personalities have done for decades (pulling a prank) - they too, in the end, are just people.

Think about all the pranks media does for entertainment. Look at shows like 22 Minutes, which is famous for pranking public figures, showing up in unexpected places and catching them unawares. Entire TV shows have been built around pranking the public (Just For Laughs, anyone?). What if it had been one of these shows that had ended in a tragedy such as this? What if it was media from our own country who saw a prank go horribly wrong? Please understand that I am not excusing the pranksters involved in this tragic case, but rather saying that they are far from being unusual in the role of "pranksters".

Being in the media can be a precarious place at times. You become a public figure, and people feel they have some ownership of you - and your behaviour, which to some extent they do, but to some extent they don't too. I have experienced this myself, although thankfully the impact on myself has been minimal. I received a veiled threat once long ago, when I wrote about a local pyramid scheme (and that's when I learned people get very touchy when you get close to their money). And a few weeks ago I received my first piece of hate mail. I have long debated sharing it on this blog, but today I think I will, because I think it's valuable to help understand what people in the media, even people as insignificant as myself, occasionally face.

It was left as a comment on my blog, but all comments come to me prior to publishing on the blog. I was sitting in my car when I read it, and I can't quite describe my emotions. I was angered that it was left anonymously, an act of true cowardice in my opinion, and it hurt me momentarily, as it was no doubt designed to do. But it did something else, too. It made me realize how easily someone can forget that on the receiving end of such vitriol is a real person, not just a name or a face, but a living breathing person with their own challenges and struggles and joys and tragedies. This is that comment:

Obviously you stupid cow you never did proper research to the subject. You are nothing but a has been nothing nobody who thinks that her claim to fame is writing a blog. Why don't you go out and make something useful of yourself? Like get a job and stop thinking that you know everything when you have only lived here a few short years? Also your rudeness with your little tweets last night from the council meeting only goes to show once again how truly ignorant you are to the real issues of this town I call HOME! Something that you are not familiar with as you only self promote and not for the right reasons thinking that if you write enough blogs you will become famous??? Yeah not likely! on An Ocean of Tears, A Ribbon of Road - Highway 63, and 2016

I sat in my car and read it once, and then twice. I felt a flare of anger, and indignation. And then a twinge of hurt, too. I thought a lot about it that day, and then, that night, I sat down and dissected it, line by line, to see if there was any truth to it, any veracity. And in the end all I found was someone sitting at a keyboard somewhere who decided to fling out some hurtful words that I sincerely doubt they would ever say to me over a cup of coffee. I found a tendency to forget that it isn't just us as individuals who are people, other people are people too, and they have feelings and thoughts just like we do.

Being in media brings with it responsibility, certainly. No one in media is a psychic, though, and no one can foretell when an interview or a joke or a prank will go horribly wrong. I suspect those Australian DJs will carry a lot of personal guilt over all this, and perhaps they do need to accept the responsibility in so far as their actions appear to have been a catalyst in all this. What I don't believe, though, is that one tragedy should beget another. What if the vitriol directed at them should end in their untimely deaths, too? Who "wins" then? What is the justice being served? And while they played a prank that went wrong does that really excuse thousands of comments wishing death on them? Is that what we, as human beings, have become?

In the end the radio DJs are people, too. I know a number of our local radio hosts right here in Fort McMurray, and while to some they are a voice on the radio to me they are personal friends, and people I care about. I hope they are never the ones that make a call that ends badly, and are the ones on the end of such a backlash. Frankly, I hope like hell it's never me that it happens to, because I too am human. I am not a prankster, but what if some day I uncover a story and tell it and the person involved decides to end their own life? How will I live with that? And what about the possible ensuing backlash where people may forget that I too am human, as I have already personally seen they can do? It's food for thought, certainly. I am even hesitant to write and publish this piece, because it opens me up for backlash yet again. Indeed, what a Catch-22 it is.

Last night as I sat and read through some of those 13,000 comments I felt increasingly saddened by all of it. I thought about how it felt to be on the receiving end of one piece of hate mail, let alone to be on the receiving end of thousands of pieces. I thought about consequences and pranks and hindsight (as in hindsight I am sure those DJs would take back that prank now, and not just because of the backlash against them) and about how we have this tendency to be so hard on each other, to forget that we are, each and every one of us, a human being. I thought about how this world could be a better place if we begin to treat each other with compassion instead of anger, even when we think someone else has made a grave error or mistake. I thought about the power of forgiveness, and about how a tragedy like this could unfold in a different way if we just remembered that at the end of the day we are all people, and not just a voice on the radio, or some words on a page, or a face on the television, or a voice on the telephone at a small private hospital.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly have received my fair share of comments from trolls on my blog. Mainly they were from when I was blogging up in Nunavut and addressing seal hunt issues. Initially I was quite shocked but I suppose I just grew a thick skin after awhile. At least one of those comments was from none other than Paul Watson, the notorious eco-terrorist so I joked after awhile that I should perhaps feel flattered rather than shocked.

    Obviously this person has issues to hurl out such vitriol. Ironically this individual seems to come across as the "know it all" which he accuses you of being. I can't really tell from your original post what it was exactly that would cause this person to type such garbage. If this goof has some insight into what the "real issues" are affecting this community perhaps he should have stated them rather than making himself out to be the idiot he quite obviously is.