Friday, November 11, 2005

On the French Front (Friday morning)

UPDATE : Friday morning. The violence continues to wane. It is hardly worth talking about.
As this Reuters article reminds us,
Riots in Paris have been largely confined to the suburbs, mostly in housing estates about an hour away from the city centre.
It is worth noting that the torched cars don't even make the headlines in the French news any more. It only comes second, or even third.
There have been questions lately with regard the coverage of the riots. Many people in those suburbs have said that seeing themselves on television around the world was an incentive to many rioters. Making it to CNN is the ultimate goal, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feel like you're making 'a difference'. Besides, the competitive spirit between rival gangs is also the reason why the car count in the media was creating a gruesome form of competition among rioters from different cities.
"Do we send teams of journalists because cars are burning, or are the cars burning because we sent teams of journalists?" asked Patrick Lecocq, editor-in-chief of France 2.
Last week, in my classroom, many of my students were shocked by the headlines abroad (particularly in the US media which they get). They could not believe that the events in France were blown out of proportions like that - indeed, there was no civil war going on and our cities were not burning(some cars were as well as a few unoccupied buildings). The fact that the arsons were extremely localized means that most people did not see anything. Television obviously makes things look worse and the power of images is daunting. A revelation for many of tmy students.
I treated the whole thing as a great learning experience and even as an opportunity to show them that their own view of other countries has been shaped by powerful images that have little to do with reality, at least with the reality of most people's daily lives in those countries. A good case in point (of course) was clearly the US whose images are ever more present on French TV, either through fiction or through the news.

Now of course, however interesting this is, the media alone cannot explain the riots and the arsons. In the same way, they are not the cause of the bombings in Jordan or in Iraq. But many journalists should keep in mind that images have a magnifying power and put the news they report into some perspective. "Should" but "won't" (a good opportunity for my students to work on English modal forms).
It is after all a business in which the more dramatic the news is, the more it sells. And we all play a part of it. In the end, this was also a great opportunity to teach a tiny bit of cynicism too.

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