The lack of media interest in today’s Duvalier hearing reminded me of Oscar Wilde. Ever the epigrammist and with a searing capacity to go to the heart of the matter, he once mentioned the public’s “insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing (and) journalism’s (habit of) supplying their demands.”
So to the court case in Port au Prince, during which three judges will decide if Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier should be prosecuted for alleged crimes against humanity. The alleged torture, murder and kidnapping is said to have occuring during Mr Duvalier’s 15-year rule as Haiti’s ‘president for life’.
The court has been in session every Thursday for three weeks. Gloriously – for news hounds – Mr Duvalier himself showed up in court three weeks ago, making headlines around the world, raising journalists’ excitement to fever pitch and sending Twitter (that great modern monitor of public opinion) into overdrive.
Ever since, there’s been declining interest in the case.
Last week, the court heard two of Mr Duvalier’s alleged victims testify. Today, the alleged victims’ testimony continues, starting with Dr Nicole Magloire, a gynaecologist. She told the judges that she was arrested at home in November 1980 and whilst in custody, she was stripped down to her underwear.
There will be many stories like that. The court will, no doubt, hear some of them. Many others will be forever untold. But does the world want to know? Not till something exciting happens. Now, the court has fewer people than the last two sessions – just a couple of committed lawyers; a scant number of journalists and far fewer bored diplomats (with political reporting jobs for their embassies).
Is it about the mercurial attention of a fickle public?
Not really. It’s about the nature of news, which goes from being big to predictable, at which point it simply stops being news. The Duvalier hearing has become predictable.
Celebrities, however, are another matter entirely and tabloids and an increasingly tabloid news culture serves the public’s “insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing”.
But, ever fair-minded, Wilde said there was much to commended in journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated it allows us all to keep “in touch with the ignorance of the community”.