South Africa: The Pistorius Story isn’t about Pistorius at all

South Africa: The Pistorius Story isn’t about Pistorius at all

20.02.2013. It seems every and all news sources worldwide have leapt at the tragic tale alleging South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is responsible for the death of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14, 2013. Overwhelming coverage is far from abating. What does such media frenzy tell us about society’s need to sensationalize and prioritize certain news over other stories?

 

Although regrettably heartrending, I don't deem this particular, and singular, murder worthy of such expansive international news coverage. The national news coverage in Canada, the USA, and the UK (among many more) are guilty of obsessing over the murder. The one news source that maintained their basic journalist duty of representing varied news (i.e.: Pistorius didn’t leap from their pages) was the New African Magazine. When I looked at the publication online I was thankful there was talk of Kenya’s upcoming elections, African football, and a memoir concerning UNAIDS.

 

Basically, if we (Western media) gave this much attention to other "African" news, perhaps including African economy, politics, and arts, maybe the public would be as educated on these matters as they are on the fact that Steenkamp had a new reality show.

 

The international media frenzy concerning Pistorius reflects how media shapes what we think is valuable and essentially news worthy. Media prioritizes our priorities for us. Gruesome and deplorable acts of violence occur every moment of every day around the world and yet few receive the coverage Pistorius’ story has. The examples of this are abound; including the brutal rape and subsequent death of South African teen Anene Booysen last month. News of Booysen’s death, a story representative of the systematic issue of violence against women in South Africa, received national coverage but few in Europe or North America know of the story.

 

What is frightening and convoluted in its own right is how reminiscent the Pistorius story is of the Kony 2012 media bonanza. Both share the theme of celebrity: giving rise to the fact that attaching celebrity to a story results in a heightened status of the story itself. Realistically if neither Pistorius nor Steenkamp were celebrities this story would go largely unheard of.

 

Much like Kony 2012, the media madness around Pistorius serves an important reminder that all too often news that focuses on ‘celebrity’ sensationalizes the person and underemphasizes the core issue, which ultimately needs to be addressed.

 

Regardless of whether Pistorius is guilty of Steenkamp’s death it’s hard to argue that this particular story is worthy of so much international attention. Whilst we are absorbed by the idea of a glorified human falling from their pedestal, thousands if not millions of other stories concerning violence and death are unfolding in the world around us. A humanitarian crisis incited by war in Syria. A messy interference of Western powers in Mali. A resource-mining-fueled-human-rights-debacle in the DRC. And the list goes on.

 

The media surrounding the Pistorius case gives rise to two concerns: 1) the imbalance of news prioritization (often overshadowed by the element of celebrity) and 2) the absence of core issues being addressed appropriately in journalism.

 

For example the day of Steenkamp’s death, February 14, is ironically also internationally recognized as V-Day, a day to end violence against women. The recent launch of the international campaign One Billion Rising highlights that at the core of the Pistorius story is violence. However, violence is not an African issue. Violence mitigates development and human potential worldwide. Our media ought to use its words and pages wisely in an effort to change this. Why does our news coverage result in Steenkamp becoming a household name overnight whilst Booysen remains unknown?

 

The Pistorius story and the resulting media frenzy serves to caution us to be critical of which news is given priority and whether the core issues inherent in such news is properly addressed both by the media and by our society.

 

Sources: The Guardian, CBC News, New African Magazine, The BBC, The Huffington Post, SABC, The Australian, V-Day.org, People Magazine

Image courtesy of kozaczek.pl

 

Alex McPhedran