Being in the media, purposefully or otherwise, can have unintended effects, many of which the media will never stop and apologize for. Such is the case for Neda Soltani, a professor of English literature, whose Facebook picture was downloaded and disseminated among Iranian protesters – en masse. According to the New York Times article In a Death Seen Around the World, a Symbol of Iranian Protests Neda Agha-Soltan, notice there is no “i” at the end of her name, was shot in the chest and died when she went to witness a protest in Tehran shortly after the conclusion of the elections that reinstated President Ahmadinejad. Her death was caught on video and subsequently went viral.
Shortly afterward the media published a photo of Soltani claiming it was Soltan – a mistake that Soltani has had to live with ever since. In an article for the BBC, Neda Soltani: ‘The media mix-up that ruined my life’, Soltani discusses the repercussions she has had to deal with to include becoming a martyr for a protest she did not participate in, government persecution, accusations of being a CIA spy, and becoming a political refugee.
There are a couple of things at work here. The first is media and journalistic responsibility – or lack thereof. Because of the speed at which news travels across the internet, media outlets feel more and more pressure to release information as fast as possible, without taking the appropriate amount of time to verify the facts, or allow the complete story to play out before reporting on it. This is all part of the cycle to bring in a larger audience, in order to attract more advertisers and increased revenue for which the media competes with other outlets. As Ahmadinejad is not a popular foreign leader here in the United States, the media rushed to publicize the fallout that followed. Soltani and Soltan were both used as pawns to frame the protests. Second, few members of the media have attempted to correct the record, which is part of what makes the BBC’s coverage important as a model for reporting. For a typical American media outlet, their is an old adage that “if it bleeds, it leads” which basically means that violence will always be covered right up front, especially political violence that can incorporate a pretty face as a victim. What is reprehensible is the lack of responsibility to correct the record in the aftermath — but that’s not what audiences will stop to see, or advertisers will pay for, as a result. Cognitively, people are conditioned and drawn to stop and witness violence or tragedy. It’s a part of our innate nature to be curious as to the fate of others. We learn through observation. The media plays upon this to garner attention and profit repeatedly. Increasing one’s media literacy in regard to the economic agenda of the media is the first step to understanding how audiences are told what to think about, and how to think about it, and to freeing one’s own mind from their effects.
BBC News Magazine. (2012, Nov 14). Neda Soltani: ‘The media mix-up that ruined my life’. Retrieved Nov 14, 2012, from BBC News Magazine: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20267989
Fathi, N. (2009, June 22). In a Death Seen Around the World, a Symbol of Iranian Protests. Retrieved Nov 14, 2012, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/world/middleeast/23neda.html?_r=0
Wikipedia. (2012, Nov 14). Death of Neda Agha-Soltan. Retrieved Nov 14, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Neda_Agha-Soltan