The last two weeks have shown the overwhelming capacity of the British people to give to charity and to care for people hundreds of miles away. When the tsunami news was breaking, many people were glued to the TV coverage and buying newspapers every day, either because they had family or friends on holiday in the region or because they knew the areas and were genuinely concerned about the people there.
News was doing a service, which is as it should be. It was only as the news became increasingly mawkish that the press was exposed again as the lazy, profit-driven sensation-mongers that has switched thousands of people off newspapers in the past few years.
The media could pick up on two startling revalations: people can grasp a news story quickly if it is presented simply (a wave, a war, whatever) and that British people are perfectly willing to respond to death and destruction beyond the reach of their own holiday resorts. They aren’t just interested, but want to actively help and, given a coordinated approach that overcomes deep cynicism about charity beareaucracy, will donate in their hundreds of millions of pounds.
So can we expect to hear more about disasters taking place all over the world right now? Wars and diseases that are killing hundreds by the day? Perhaps the international bodies that work hard to solve these problems? Unlikely: as tsunami coverage begins to recede, it seems that the messy debris of Blair and Brown’s relationship is the only news worth printing.
For every column inch eaten up by idle fluff, spend a moment wondering what happened today in the world, even in our own country. Remind yourself that Israel is not the only long-standing conflict that you are capable of forming an interest in and that your parliamentarians are doing rather more than just gossiping about the prime minister and his vengeful ex.
Most importantly, remember that we don’t have to rely on mainstream news for a moment longer. As Thhomas Paine might have said, huzah for the internet.
First published in The Friend, 14 January 2005