If It Bleeds, It Leads.
All television addicts believe that without television they would be ignorant since they would be unaware of what is happening.
However, the purpose of news programs is not to inform. They are designed with the idea to capture the audience with shocking and provocative news stories and to make sure everyone keeps watching.
Most importantly, everyone keeps watching through the commercials. The only purpose of television news shows is to make money for the television network.
Everything else is irrelevant.
Through this mess it happens that sometimes valuable information does seep through. However, the amount of violence that appears on television during an average news broadcast is much more than the amount of violence that really occurs.
The result is fear!
The culture of fear
We live in a culture of fear. Fear of violence. Fear of disease. Fear of war. Fear of the weather. Fear of our neighbors. Fear of the unknown.
What we never realize is that these fears are not natural but are driven through television. This is because people believe what they see on television. Television affects fashion, lifestyle, attitude, and knowledge.
For television addicts (there are no viewers, only addicts) if it's on TV then it's got to be true!
Every culture on this planet suffers from the disease of fear.
"Television news programs survive on scares. On local newscasts, where producers live by the dictum 'if it bleeds, it leads,' drug, crime, and disaster stories make up most of the news portion of the broadcasts. Evening newscasts on the major networks are somewhat less bloody, but between 1990 and 1998, when the nation’s murder rate declined by 20 percent, the number of murder stories on network newscasts increased 600 percent," said Barry Glassner in the book The Culture Of Fear.
In America, and the rest of the world, people watch thousands of acts of violence on television over and over and over. Paul Klite, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Media Watch, said in a statement that "the seventy-five percent of Americans who watch TV news regularly are subjected to a substantial nightly dose of catastrophe. And, in the news, the blood is real. Journalists by now know that their broadcast images have enormous power and must be handled with sensitivity. Yet, the news industry has no ethical guidelines for airing violent images."
Klite's organization found that from 40 to 50 percent of all on-air news was comprised of reporting some type of violent act. "Murder, one of the least common crimes committed, is the number one topic on newscasts," said Klite.
Most gun owners and advocates probably don't want to admit that they keep guns out of fear. "People who watch a lot of TV are more likely than others to believe their neighborhoods are unsafe, to assume that crime rates are rising, and to overestimate their own odds of becoming a victim. They also buy more locks, alarms, and—you guessed it—guns, in hopes of protecting themselves," said Glassner.
Is there a causal link between TV violence and real-life violence? Maybe and maybe not. The answer to this question depends on who you ask.
Why is television news so violent?
"After the dinnertime newscasts the networks broadcast newsmagazines, whose guiding principle seems to be that no danger is too small to magnify into a national nightmare. Some of the risks reported by such programs would be merely laughable were they not hyped with so much fanfare. Competing for ratings with drama programs and movies during prime-time evening hours, newsmagazines feature story lines that would make a writer for 'Homicide' or 'ER' wince," said Glassner.
Television news is compelling. Neil Postman and Steve Powers, authors of the book How to Watch TV News, note that TV news programs are designed to keep the viewer watching and build an audience. TV news are highly rated shows and bring in big money in advertising. "More viewers, higher ratings, more advertising dollars, more profit, more similar programs to try to attract more viewers ... ad infinitum," they said in the book.
"Murders, rapes and fires are not the only way to assess the progress of a society. Why are there so few television stories about symphonies that have been composed, novels written, scientific problems solved, and a thousand other creative acts that occur during the course of a month?" question Postman and Powers. "Were television news to be filled with these events, we would not be frightened. We would, in fact, be inspired, optimistic, and cheerful."
"In the judgment of most editors, people watch television. And what they are interested in watching are exciting, intriguing, even exotic pictures... It is difficult to televise a theory." Most people would rather watch a hot pursuit in the show "Cops" than see a scientist explain his theory with complex mathematics. Also, TV news must be fast. Short sound bites and quick cuts because on TV, time is a limiting factor.
Postman and Powers explain that TV news has got to be brief, because while news can be condensed and cut, commercials cannot. This is what TV news is all about. This is why we live in a culture of fear.
"Daily examples of violence and moral degeneracy that are the staple of TV news shows ... are not mitigated by the presence of recognizable and attractive actors and actresses," said Postman and Powers. "They are put forward as the stuff of everyday life. These are real murders, real rapes, real plundering. And the fact that they are the stuff of real life makes them all the more powerful."
What can you do? How can you stop this culture of fear from entering your own home? Not watching TV news is a good step. Yahoo! News and Google News are two great sources of news, pictures and video on the Internet that is uncut by commercials and news program directors. Radio and newspapers also bring news in a more complete fashion. The Internet and newspapers also allow the reader to progress through the story at his or her own pace. You can read the story again to pick out details or find other stories which will tell you more. Have a conversation around the table during dinner. Keep the tube off.
Watch TV news with a critical eye. TV news shows are designed to keep the viewer watching through the commercials. The video on TV news is edited and narrated and oftentimes the whole story is not presented. A story without good sound bites or video is not shown or is brushed over quickly.
Forming an opinion for yourself about how to establish your own safety is the best way to have realistic expectations. Believe what you see and hear with your own eyes and ears. Don't believe what comes across on the TV screen. TV news exists to sell on-air advertising, not to enlighten the watcher.