Why news is like a nature documentary

The cheetah tiptoes towards the gazelle, downwind and disguised amidst the tall grass. He walks about 100 m, honing in on its unsuspecting prey. Suddenly, the gazelle perks up, notices a movement in the grass and bolts off, crying out to its herd in warning.

The cheetah now springs into action. The hind limb muscles of the fastest land animal go into over drive, sending him bounding forward with massive, mesmerizing strides. He has to make a kill, having not eaten in three days. But after 30 seconds, the gazelle, with stamina on its side, seems to be getting away. Just when all seemed lost, the cheetah’s brother and hunting companion emerges from behind a bush and surprises the gazelle. It goes straight for the jugular and the gazelle is brought down.

We have all been transfixed by scenes like this in documentaries. However, safaris through national parks are not nearly as dramatic. Chases and successful hunts are extremely rare, and are spotted by tourists only a handful of times each year across wide reaches of forests. Just 11 hours of the epic BBC documentary series, Planet Earth, took five years to produce.

News, especially televised news, is a live documentary of the human species. It is a sensational highlight reel of the mundane reality that defines our life. If you were to search for international news about your own city, you could see how your experience of day-to-day life is so different from the news stories being reported. A quick search of Bangalore yielded a rapist auto-driver on the run, helicopter taxi apps and the Indian prime minister calling it the valley of sin (move over Las Vegas).

The problem here is that the mere act of watching the news causes us to believe it. Even if we’re consciously on our guard, we are in no real control of how the information we consumes affects us. The availability heuristic is a cognitive bias, by which we rely on immediate examples that come to our mind when evaluating a place. It leads us to look at the news and mistake its sensational reports for reality. The only way to truly discover a place – its wonders and its hardships – is to travel there physically and see its more mundane, boring and true aspects.

This is why news ought to be taken with a grain of salt, if not avoided completely. While pretending to inform us of ground reality every minute, it can actually end up doing distorting it.

Source: Planet earth fact – 5 years for 11 hours of filming

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