The complexity of events in the Middle East is daunting. But oversimplification is to be avoided

Journalists must endeavour to set out as full a picture as they possibly can

Share

Lazy days by the pool in Majorca last week were accompanied by Christopher Clark’s brilliant The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914.

As Clark notes, events in the months leading up to war remain “the political crisis par excellence” for international relations theorists. The actions and motives of the major players remain sufficiently shrouded in uncertainty that most hypotheses as to the war’s cause can find reasonable sustenance. Many theories to have done the rounds over the years are inevitably quite simplistic as a result.

Yet as Clark also points out, just as subsequent understandings of the war’s origins have sometimes relied on unsophisticated interpretations of complex contemporary events, so those were occasionally set in motion by politicians, diplomats and military strategists whose thinking was itself rather one-dimensional. The reactions of political figures in one state to the goings-on in another were often based on highly stereotyped ideas of national characteristics.

All this brought to mind the fact that complaints against newspapers, including The Independent, frequently run along the lines that an item has offered an overly-simplistic view of a given situation. In the last few months, I have received several emails from people who fear that The Independent has failed to do justice to the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian question.

In the last week there have been similar concerns expressed about reporting of suicide; and about coverage of a diabetes story.

To a certain extent, it is unavoidable that newspapers should not always be in a position to synthesise every available piece of information into a single item about a potentially complicated subject. It is the very nature of a general interest publication that it covers innumerable topics in sufficient depth to allow readers to understand the situation; but with the lightness of touch that enables people to get to the end of the article. Testing deadlines and restricted space create additional pressure.

Nevertheless, Clark’s magnificent work is a reminder that journalists must endeavour to set out as full a picture as they possibly can and should always look for hidden eddies in stories that appear unmoving on the surface. That is particularly true when the key figures about whom journalists often write are not always alive to the intricacies themselves.

For there is a nagging suspicion that some politicians of today can be as fixed and naive in their world view as their counterparts were in 1914.

 

It’s our duty to report suicide with care

The suicide of a celebrity is always a major talking point. To many, it can – despite there being little logic for the view – seem remarkable that an individual who has enjoyed great success can be so troubled that they take their own life.

Robin Williams’s untimely death resulted, in some quarters, in simplistic explanations for his actions: money worries, health problems, drug dependency and depression were each posited as “the answer”. While nobody could possibly know the full particulars of Williams’s state of mind, information about the scene of his death allowed some titles to push the boundaries of acceptable detail regarding the method of his suicide.

It was ironic that this should be seen in a week when The Independent highlighted the rise in self-harm among children.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London