Awareness and media (sometimes) positive influence in building Shared Societies

Brookings Paper

A serious study based on facts, good media coverage and radical positive real change. A virtuous circle as hard to see as Halley’s comet? Maybe. But that’s why a more conscious media is needed in order to make an impact and foster the building of Shared Societies. In other words, media needs to be aware of their power to raise awareness and therefore make changes in positive (or negative) ways.

This story begins in the National Basketball Association in the USA, precisely in the NBA referees. A study from The National Bureau of Economic Affairs issued in June 2007 founded “that more personal fouls are called against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race refereeing crew than when officiated by an own-race crew. These biases are sufficiently large that we find appreciable differences in whether predominantly black teams are more likely to win or lose, based on the racial composition of the refereeing crew”. The study was grounded on a huge statistical database from two decades (1991-2002)

The report jumped into the headlines, was a front page story in The New York Times and many other newspapers, got extensive coverage from the powerful ESPN and NBA stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Charles Barkley engaged in an open and public discussion.

A new paper (click here to download the paper) published by the same authors Devin G. Pope, Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers  and published by the Brookings Institute compares the next time period after the first study (2003-2006) to the timeframe immediately after the study was publicized (2007-2010). The result? “Racial bias persisted in the years after the study’s original sample, but prior to the media coverage. Subsequent to the media coverage though, the bias completely disappeared”. The authors founded that the most likely mechanism that may have produced this result is that upon becoming aware of their biases, individual referees changed their decision-making process. The media exposure was apparently enough to make that change as the NBA reported that it did not take any specific action to eliminate referee discrimination.

This case study proves awareness and media coverage are powerful mechanisms for change. And in this specific story it is not just awareness in the way we usually think, making others conscious of a certain situation or reality but the other way round. Sometimes the hell doesn’t live in the body of others, to use the phrase from Jean Paul Sartre (“L’enfer, c’est l´Autre”; “Hell is other people), but within us. Discovering our own evils, in this case through media exposure, is a good first step to clean them up and therefore make real individual and collective progress towards a Shared Society.

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