The kidnapping of the two school boys in Larnaca has put our reflexes to the test, those of the authorities, the media and society at large. The public certainly passed the test with flying colours, as it came across an unprecedented incident and reacted swiftly as a united front that was under attack.
Of course, praise goes without saying to those who connected the dots by combining information and images to lead the police to the discovery of the two kids and we are all forever grateful for that.
But a dark cloud hanging over people that morning was equally worth noting, as prolonged agony had managed to spread everywhere. Work was put on hold or people were carrying on at the job with their sights trained on the media.
The abductor, apparently without putting much thought into it, managed to test society’s reflexes, with the public answering the call right then and there. And the authorities also did what they had to do in order to respond to the incident, but once again the facts that were unraveled in the aftermath showed some shortcomings, some big and some small.
And this is where brilliance or deprivation in journalism comes into the picture. In a difficult moment, at a time of crisis, journalists can only fall back on their education
These inadequacies were probably due to the fact that nobody from the public ever expected that someone could enter a primary school in Cyprus and kidnap two students, and the authorities apparently did not have an action plan in that type of scenario.
The anxiety that authorities feel is not quite the same with that of private citizens, precisely because people in a time of crisis rely on the expertise of the authorities.
The fact that the authorities, government and police, did not have control of the situation as they were in the dark for many hours was being relayed to the public through mass media. Each outlet would offer its own biased version of the story as it unfolded - based on scattered conversation, information, and reactions – with reporters on the case having in mind particular scenarios as they shared information.
And this is where brilliance or deprivation in journalism comes into the picture. In a difficult moment, at a time of crisis, journalists can only fall back on their education.
“Those who know how to think need no teachers,” as the wise Mahatma Gandhi once said.
Because when you don’t know how to think, you may go overboard during critical situations. And instead of having a sole aim of reporting as objectively as possible but also protecting at the same time the two young children who were kidnapped in this particular case, you choose to run through the list of scenarios. Instead of keeping in mind that those receiving your information may also be minors, you cast your net wide and broadcast whatever comes your way.
As a result, you stoop down to the level of pandering, gossip, and yellow journalism, unleashing a beast within you that you never even knew it existed.
The only ‘antibiotic’ against the beast within is Education. I am talking about real education, and not reckless education or information without judgment or without questioning a conclusion. I am talking about education that does not rest or promote self-righteousness to the student but instead multiplies questions and raises doubt. But such a kind of education is not favoured by political parties and all the governments because it produces free and independent citizens, who are of no use to the deprived game of party and politics. And it is political ‘tradition’ that beasts can be tamed, using proper method and manipulation,” Manos Hadjidakis said in 1993, one year before he passed away.
So education is absolutely essential if you want to be able to think. This is what emerges as the protector of society and ally of human values. Conditions and circumstances in our country have proven that we absolutely need it to stay safe. This kind of education needs no tall fences. On the contrary, it removes them when they get in its way.
This is why the dialogue on education, which is going to start any moment now, ought to aim at real education.
Published on Kathimerini Cyprus website (30 September 2018)