Editorial: Children that can Change the World

By Stephanie LI Yingliang

Oct.12, 2016

 

16 years ago, the New York Time’s columnist Richard Bernstein brought the term “political correctness” into mainstream media with his commentary “The Rising Hegemony of the Politically Correct” on the paper [1]. It is “a cluster of opinions about race, ecology, feminism, culture and foreign policy defines a kind of ‘correct’ attitude toward the problems of the world,” he wrote when discussing the pressure felt in academia.

Today, this “pressure to conform” can also become a weapon for anyone who has the ambition to make a difference. And being “politically correct”, everyone loves children (or perhaps some may argue that it is simply human nature), where sometimes, media might be manipulative about how they use children to influence their audience.

“Nine-year-old Zianna Oliphant had not planned to speak on behalf of her whole city. When she did, she got the world’s attention.” In tears, Zianna Oliphant said: “We are black people and we shouldn’t have to feel like this.” [2] This BBC report also inserted a footage featuring the young girl’s speech before Charlotte City Council, as she was speaking in tears, and paused at some overwhelmingly emotional moments.

Similar reports can be found across several major American press. [3][4][5][6] Taking the above five news media into analysis, we can find that they approached the same information in similar ways. The most salient feature is that all five of them put up the video of the sobbing black girl, and the lengths of videos range from 56 seconds (CNN) to 2 minute and 5 seconds (BBC). Visual aids are the most powerful weapons, sometimes even more powerful than words. At least one of them is slightly edited so to make it brief and concise. USA TODAY fully edited their video, which shows the girl at the beginning of the video as a lead, followed by a news story narrated by a reporter.

However, the footages appear to have taken from different angles, but only BBC attributed their source of footages as a viral video on a celebrity’s Instagram. Therefore, I can only assume that they filmed it with their own cameras, but I am also suspicious that a protest in a small city council could actually attract national-wide, even international media attention, especially when the girl’s mother claimed that “it had not been planned for them to speak” [5].

BBC has the longest and possibly complete footage, where viewers can not only see the girl, but also hear an adult (possibly her mother) encouraging her to continue to talk. The last few second of it also shows the audience (mostly black people) standing up and applauded after her speech. It is the simplest yet straightforward method to immerse your audience into the girl’s emotion so that they can relate strongly to her.

Moreover, none of the stories fail to give direct quotation of her speech. “It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed, and we can’t even see them anymore. It’s a shame we have to go to their graveyard.” These lines can be found on the stories from BBC, CNN and Time in noticeable position in the stories. “We are black people and we shouldn’t have to feel like this.” This sentence appears on BBC, NBC News and USA TODAY. But interestingly, NBC News and USA TODAY only put this quote in the lower paragraph, making them less important information. In fact, NBC News and USA TODAY report it from different angles: NBC News focuses on the mentality of Zianna, even the title starts with a quote “I’m Not Shy”. I think, however, this report deviates from the significance of the event. USA TODAY presents the protest in Charlotte City Council in general instead of simply picking out the girl’s speech. But again, I am baffled because the title and the story didn’t quite match. I expect that the story will tell me in the first few paragraphs what happened to the young girl, since the title clearly states it – “Young girl sobs and scolds Charlotte City Council”.

After reading these stories, no one can deny that they are incredibly sympathetic of Zianna, and thus, the tragedy of the previous shooting victim, who might be victim of racial discrimination, greatly extends its public attention after the original shooting happened. And there is the point – the media have achieved their goal by putting the face of an innocent, sobbing child in their reports and making her the heroine. If, on the other hand, Zianna was a white girl, or a 30-year-old black woman, or even to be more extreme, a 30-year-old white male, I wonder if she would still get so much media coverage. The answer is probably no. A crying, black, young girl is apparently more newsworthy than a group of adults protesting on the street. Zianna is the combination of all the right labels: kid, female, African American, evidently the perfect candidate as these “labels” fall into the brackets of the so-called historically disadvantage groups.

Last but not least, I would like to point out that this kind of “spinning” of the story largely in multimedia. Photojournalism, in particular, is consciously making choice of the most eyes-catching pictures. For example, in the BBC refugee story [7] we read last week, four out of five photos selected in the news page featured children. And the photo of Aylan, a three-year-old Syrian boy lying lifelessly on the beach attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos, keeps haunting the western world. [8]

A hint of ideological propaganda can be sensed from ABC’s documentary “Flashpoint: Refugees in America” “starring” a six-year-old Syrian girl named Hala and her struggles in adapting to a new life in America. There are two major contrasts here: one is Syria, a war-torn country where its residents had to abandon their home, versus America, “the Land of chances”: it gives an implication of western superiority when one of the refugees who were about to embark on his journey to America was asked to describe America said the above. The other sharp contrast lies between the refugees and local protesters. The documentary shows the refugees in general as innocent, friendly, and eager to be accepted in the community, yet the protesters are shown the opposite: unfriendly, inconsiderate, and not willing to share their neighborhood. In the video, there are only the debates of both sides and a very short interview with the organizer of the protests. The demand of the local people is quite understandable, but unfortunately, their voice cannot be heard or fully represented in this documentary.

Although in the end, the media’s purpose is served, and also “politically correct”, we as journalists, should think twice before we decide the “newsworthiness” or put a spin in our stories, and always take a pinch of salt with all news we see.

 

References:

 

[1] New York Times: The Rising Hegemony of the Politically Correct (By Richard Bernstein)

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/10/28/weekinreview/ideas-trends-the-rising-hegemony-of-the-politically-correct.html?pagewanted=all (published: October 28, 1990)

[2] BBC: How young Zianna Oliphant spoke for black rights in Charlotte

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37499686 (published: September 28, 2016)

[3] USA TODAY: Young girl sobs and scolds Charlotte City Council

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/09/27/impassioned-charlotte-protesters-say-mayor-chief-must-go/91156748/ (published: September 27, 2016)

[4] Time: Young Girl Gives Tearful Speech at Charlotte City Council Meeting

http://time.com/4510892/girl-tearful-speech-charlotte-city-council-meeting/(published: September 27, 2016)

[5] NBC News: ‘I’m Not Shy’: Charlotte Girl Zianna Oliphant Discusses Emotional Speech to City Council

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/i-m-not-shy-charlotte-girl-gives-emotional-speech-race-n655776 (published: September 27, 2016)

[6] CNN Girl weeps over police shootings at tense Charlotte meeting

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/27/us/charlotte-girl-city-council-meeting/ (published: September 27, 2016)

[7] BBC: Gordon Brown warns of Syrian refugee emergency

http://www.bbc.com/news/education-30923132 (published: January 22, 2015)

[8] The Guardian: Shocking images of drowned Syrian boy show tragic plight of refugees

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/02/shocking-image-of-drowned-syrian-boy-shows-tragic-plight-of-refugees (published: September 2, 2015)

[9] ABC: Flashpoint: Refugees in America

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/flashpoint-refugees-america-part-42240898

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/flashpoint-refugees-america-part-42240963

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/flashpoint-refugees-america-part-42241029

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