Wednesday 26 August 2009

The Jackson Factor

The late unfortunate Michael Jackson is in the news again – and again – and again. It would appear that UK news stations are determined to continue to exploit him. We think there is a phenomenon at work which we call 'The Jackson Factor'. It works thus – the amount of news coverage is in inverse proportion to the importance of any event. The highest Jackson Factor score would be 10 where news items of no global impact are given excessive/continuous exhaustive air time. The lowest score of 1 would be awarded to events of global significance that receive little or no media attention.

To illustrate the point take the example of serious life-threatening water shortage for millions of people. For many years the UN has warned that water shortages will become one of the most urgent problems worldwide in coming years. One estimate is that four billion people will be affected by 2050. India, with a growing population and increasing agricultural and manufacturing output, is facing huge problems of water supply in rural and urban areas. Climate change may mean there will be less rainfall in future. Northern India has experienced the driest season for more than eighty years; the monsoon is late and the people are praying for rain as they struggle to live through a widespread drought. Fights have broken out and murders have been committed as desperate people rush to fill vessels with water during the limited periods that water flows through the pipes. For example, in Bhopal, known as the 'City of Lakes', the thousand-year-old largest man-made lake has shrunk from 38 sq km to 5 sq km. The population, some 1.8 million, has had water rationed to 30 minutes' supply every other day since last October. That ration is now reduced to one day in three. Indore, not far from Bhopal, is rationed to 30 minutes' supply every seven days.

In the south Mumbai has had heavy rainfall and flooding but even so levels in the lakes have dropped, forcing the water supply to be cut by 30%.

This startling, appalling chain of events scores extremely low on the Jackson Factor scale. It fails to grab reporting honours for the following reasons: it lacks 'celebrities', it is happening in an impoverished continent not inhabited by Westerners, it has no spectator participation with the attendant thrill of feeling that 'your vote counts'.

Recent Michael Jackson UK media coverage scores 10. Calamitous events in Bhopal score 1. Casualties in Afghanistan, while not global, affect many nations whose military forces are engaged and receive very little coverage. Deaths are reported while large numbers of maimed survivors are barely mentioned. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are rarely mentioned. Low Jackson Factor of ??

Can we expect or predict that this over-reporting of 'non-news' will continue in a downward spiral to banality? Are we seeing the end of serious reporting of dramatic global events that will affect us all? Has sensationalist celebrity reporting overtaken the serious business of presenting information on matters of international and global importance?

It would be interesting to know if this phenomenon is being seen in other countries around the world.

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