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Column Beurskens: Media

Sometimes I have late office hours. Those are for people who work during the day and I myself like to work irregularly, one day more, one day less. So it happens that Jet walks in unannounced and asks for some medicine for her bones. She heard about it an hour earlier on the five o’clock show. This is the summit, I think but I write the prescription docilely, although I never heard of the substance. >It costs $ 19.95′ I say – because that is what things cost in the pharmacy, which are not covered by health insurance in the Netherlands – in a feeble effort to discourage. But Jet is not to be deterred. On TV there had been somebody who was cured. And something cheap cannot help. This small event reminded me of a story which goes around in our family. My paternal grandmother was German, from just across the border. After ten years of marriage with a Dutchman she moved with him to his native village a few miles up the road. Years before the second World War she had been visiting her family in Germany. When she returned home she put her bag on the table and said almost casually in her Rhineland dialect es jibt Kriegthere will be war. She was sure about that, factually sure. The papers didn’t write about it yet, but she had run into a riot, where people had smashed the windows of a Jewish shop. People of her own village were doing that. People she knew. Not the event itself made her feel that way – it wasn’t a big thing – , but what she had felt with it made her absolutely sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Probably her thoughts had turned back to the times of the first World War when the campaign against the allies had been announced as ‘Sch├╝tzenfest’, a shooting party, so certain they were about victory. Her first husband died on the battlefields of Northern France, just at the time as the papers wrote about the front as ‘Im Westen nichts neues’. Nothing new in the West.

A short while ago I was at the birthday party of our Polish priest. He asked me why we ran ahead so much with euthanasia in the Netherlands. I replied that it probably has something to do with the longing for freedom of the Dutch. They want euthanasia just as much or just as little as anybody else in the Western world, but they feel that people should have a free choice. But I find nowhere the view of the church he said how can people choose freely? The church’s view on euthanasia is indeed one of the best-kept secrets in the Netherlands, except for the fact of course that she is against it. Despite the avalanche of publicity one encounters an amazing lack of knowledge about the view of the church, even with opponents of euthanasia.

These are examples on a different scale, but they have a connection. Stories of effective medicines are often hidden advertisements and people don’t know it. Broadcasting time and newspaper space are bought by the pharmaceutical industry, which directly turns to the people in this way over the heads of the medical profession. The media are powerful. People think they have formed an opinion on the basis of hard facts, while in reality they are entirely guided and directed. We live in the information era. We think we know everything because we have an open window to the world. In the time of my grandmother people didn’t have that illusion. They knew that they didn’t know anything and that they had to rely entirely on their own sense for the signs of the time.
Real knowledge of what happens one doesn’t achieve in front of the TV. Real information one doesn’t get in the newspaper or in the internet. In the whole of the Western world at a given moment almost the same news bulletin is broadcasted, not only the same facts, but also the same presentation and the same opinions. What is called information is in reality largely information which doesn’t matter.

The message which really makes history lies underneath this avalanche of facts and irrelevant polemics, which comes at us. It is not the question whether CNN or al-Jazeera is right, but how one can possibly conceive an idea of reality as if one never watched them. Only then one might be able to figure out what for example is really happening between Islam and the West. An external censor doesn’t exist anymore in our times of press freedom. But he has been replaced by an internal censor who is least as powerful as the old one.