A picture tells a thousand words, but which ones?

Religion and Politics – will we ever be able to separate the two? I just got sent this picture and thought that I’d share it with you.

The following text came with it:

“interesting pic showing Chinese Military donning Tibetan Monk’s robes before going on to riot n cause trouble disguised as monks.”

If we’re honest, that’s not what the picture shows: there is no ‘donning’, ‘rioting’ or ‘causing trouble.’ It shows a bunch of Asian guys with short hair in Chinese military uniforms holding bundles which bear a resemblance to the robes worn by Tibetan monks. It could very well be a picture of Tibetan monks coming home from a fancy dress party where the theme was ‘Chinese Military Uniforms in the 21st Century.’ How do we know?

If you’ve kept up to date with what’s been going on in Tibet recently, on seeing this picture you’d probably connect it with reports that the Chinese military were indeed involved with staging riots, and you might think that yes, there’s something a bit fishy going on over there. But the picture is not conclusive evidence, nor does it show anything more than what you can see.

You might think I’m being a bit picky here, but I think that anyone involved in the distribution of information needs to chose their words very carefully. Words are very powerful things. Watch the news or read the newspaper and pay attention to the particular nouns, verbs, adjectives etc that are used to refer to events or people and then consider how these words affect your opinion or understanding of the subject. And remember, most importantly, that these words are very subjective, they’re put on top of the facts in order to direct you how to feel towards something. The above picture and caption are a good example.

We often accuse both governments and media organisations of misleading people through withholding or manipulating information. Michael Moore goes on about this but he’s as guilty of it as those he targets. Fighting fire with fire doesn’t work, it only makes the fire bigger.

So if you want to circulate this picture (which could be a good idea) spend a minute or two considering the words that go along with it.

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7 thoughts on “A picture tells a thousand words, but which ones?”

  1. I was sent the same pic, and Sansicarus was on the money, it shows just what it shows, which isn’t neccesarily what the inflammatory email implied it was. Better to know your facts before going off half cocked.

  2. I saw it on a website and it looks pretty self-explanatory to me. The colours are just too perfect to not be Tibetan monk robes. Maybe they’re some souvenir robes from the temple gift shop. Oh wait, that explanation sounds ridiculous.

  3. I have absolutely no doubt that what they’re holding are Tibetan monk’s robes. My beef is with the language accompanying the picture, which you have to agree does not describe the picture in the slightest.

  4. Are they commenting on this one particular piece of information, though. I heard many conflicting accounts, some mentioning a known policeman wielding a knife and wearing a monk’s robe. I didn’t see your email, but the blogosphere is kind of a complement to the traditional media, excelling in speed and interpretation, but sucking in accuracy and reliability.

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