Media and its influence on our perception of the world

Why do some topics, like the currently still ongoing war in Ukraine, get more attention from our media, and therefore also from the readers? And what are the issues that arise as a result of this?

Individuals are dependent on the media to obtain information. News portals and media are providing citizens with everyday information about what is happening in the world. What we see and read in the news is regarded as "important" since it is the information on which citizens build their understanding of current events throughout the world. In current times of uncertainty, this information becomes a critical component of society's functioning as it severely influences crisis management and social behavior, making information and entertainment values the world's driving factors. When the Russian forces attacked Ukraine in the early morning of February 24, it seemed like the world was holding its breath and following the happenings. The Covid-19 pandemic, which was dominating the news for the last two years, suddenly seemed to have lost its importance overnight. But why do some topics, like the currently still ongoing war in Ukraine, get more attention from our media, and therefore also from the readers? And what are the issues that arise as a result of this?

One of the main reasons why the war in Ukraine took over the pole-position in European media is its “geographical proximity” to the people: It is a country located on European mainland, bordering multiple EU countries, and many people in European countries either have their roots in Ukraine or know Ukrainian citizens themselves. Furthermore, they share a similar lifestyle and a familiar physical appearance with other Europeans. Ukrainian citizens wear the same international clothing brands which are currently popular, they buy the same products in stores and as far as skin color is concerned, they look more familiar to us than refugees from other countries or continents. Even religious beliefs, as culturally diverse they may be, can be more easily integrated. This feeling of geographical proximity was further reinforced by explicit statements of different politicians and media sources. Due to these aspects, the current conflict seems to be more important to European citizens than other wars, and there is a much more understanding and open-hearted attitude towards Ukrainians than to refugees from other countries. As an example, people are less attached to refugees from Syria and regardless of the amount of media coverage regarding that topic, there is a smaller attention span and less emotional involvement.

Furthermore, even without a personal connection to Ukraine or the Ukrainian citizens, people must face the consequences of the war in their daily life, which have a much deeper impact on the individuals than the pandemic at this point. Since by now most people are fully vaccinated and generally adapted well to the pandemic situation, they are more worried about the newest conflict. Knowing that most EU countries depend on oil and gas from Russia and that Ukraine exports several essential supplies like for example wheat, people are confronted with the fear of not being able to heat their apartments or fuel their cars in order to get to work. Also, taking the inflation rate into account, people have trouble affording their daily supplies in the local supermarket and this is adding up to the issues of poverty which is widely spread in society.

On the one hand the media must satisfy the population's need for information and on the other hand the readership must find the news portrayed exciting. Due to limitations in time and in the capacities of viewers’ attention, media has to focus on the topics commonly perceived as important. While the role of media grows in importance especially in times of acute crisis, as it is one of the most essential means of communication between the government and the people, there has also been discovered a link between media exposure and mental distress due to infinite information overload. Since the pandemic has dominated headlines for over two years, climate change is threatening civilization with unpredictable outcomes and numerous conflicts are ongoing, it seems as if there are new challenges every day that will profoundly impact humanity. Therefore, when faced with such dire circumstances, the media must always fulfill the psychological need to reassure. Especially in times if immediate crisis, like the currently ongoing war in Ukraine, media has to balance between providing accurate and timely information - while it is important to provide information regarding new developments as fast as possible, it is arguably even more important to provide fact-checked and verified information.

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rivista di geopolitica, geopolitica e notizie dal mondo