OK OK, I couldn’t let it pass without throwing my tenpenneth into the ring. Actually I’m not going to talk about the recent polar bear attack itself (some interesting dialogue to be found on colleague Andy Rouse’s Facebook page here) but rather the inevitable press coverage.
The death of any young person yet to experience the myriad opportunities that life offers is always sad and an impossible ordeal for family and friends. But it’s the press coverage of how this young man died that I find both bizarre and distasteful. Had the lad been knocked over by a car or stung by a wasp or had a fatal asthma attack, or any one of hundreds of less ‘dramatic’ ends, he would simply have become an anonymous statistic to the outside world; the press wouldn’t care and neither would we – because we simply wouldn’t know about it.
This story has everything that the vulturine press live for. It’s a heady cocktail of human endeavour, heroism and ultimately an untimely death. But the cherry on the cake is fear – not any old fear but the most powerful, deep-seated, primeval fear of all. The ingredients are the stuff of journalistic dreams.
But let’s put aside the predictability of sensationalising a predator attack, the salivating over the most lurid details. The objective is to sell papers/airtime. And the best way to do that is to goad an audience into the irrationality, the ill-informed anecdotal outpourings, which pitch people against each other – providing the fuel for a fire that once lit, will burn of its own accord for days. Job done.
I’ve not yet read a report which gives the reader any ecological background to the polar bear. I’ve not yet read a suggestion as to why this bear might have attacked the campers, or contextualised the danger posed by polar bears at large. Nothing about the shrinking ice cap which ironically, I’m guessing the expedition had as part of its study. Here was an opportunity to use this tragic event to educate an audience and perhaps alert it to the challenges faced by the polar bear, its arctic habitat and ultimately, how this will affect us all. But then we wouldn’t want responsible, objective and informative stories to get in the way of good old-fashioned scaremongering and a verbal punch up.