Under Western Eyes, Chandra Mahonty

In our more recent set of readings, we have identified how media represents not only the realities that we directly interpret in our daily lives, but also those that we observe from a distance. Domestic issues are framed in very specific ways in terms of what is said and how, but this is not exclusive to information constructed solely within our borders. Chandra Mahonty discusses the way that international issues are framed through the Western construction of others in her essay “Under Western Eyes.” An example of this kind of representation is the way that feminist perspective is applied to the cultural practices in other countries, particularly in those that industrialized nations see as developing nations.

In the industry, the narrow reporting of a certain issue that becomes a broader representation of a foreign group is called parachute journalism. This type of journalism is especially prevalent when national disasters happen in foreign countries and news outlets are pressed for the most on-the-ground, updated news. In sending reporters to cover brief accounts quickly, they only get a small sense of the actual cultural experience of the landscape. And in the case of situations like the Haiti earthquake of 2010 or even the more recent news of Syrian airstrikes, bad news seems to make the best news. Emily Erckson and John Maxwell Hamilton explain more of the problems of this type of reporting in their essay “Foreign Reporting Enhanced by Parachute Journalism.” Their study examines the claim that the “one-dimensional view of foreign correspondents as elite experts has remained static” ever since it became a media resource as early as the turn of the 19th century. The reporters and industry leaders that they interviewed for their research largely acknowledged that views were lost in translation with foreign correspondents replaced on-the-ground resident reporters in various situations. This lack of cultural acclimation to the area, let alone little prior training in the case of major disasters, leads to the perspectives of Western journalists imposing their view of the news for that specific area, whether it’s entirely accurate or not. The authors are also apt to note that “much of this parachute journalism is an extension of local coverage is also positive.” When done with an understanding that they are an outside source interpreting cultural values in their own terms, reporters can still contribute to the distribution of knowledge for certain events when it is the only viable resource available to them.

However, there is also the problem that when foreign correspondents arrive to a new scene, they seek out only the most superficial understanding of a certain culture. Although this might be expected in the case of any group of outlets covering an international event such as the Olympics, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi provides a prime example of this coverage potentially doing harm. The article “Sochi’s Gay Bar is Overrun With Reporters” gives examples of multiple national and international news outlets that only covered one very visible aspect of the gay population in Russia during the games. In everyone visiting the Cabaret Mayak, Sochi’s only gay club, reporters attempted to paint a picture of the Russian gay population through the small sample of individuals who frequented that one club, which is located in the “resort town” of Sochi and is not representative of the country as a whole. However, when readers see this type of representation repeatedly across the media, the superficial illustration of this group then becomes a symbol for the larger population. The author of the article points out the flaw best when he writes, “(The reporters are) doing the best they can, but run the risk of sending readers away with the impression that gay life in Russia is all smiles and camp.”

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