News Values: Michael Jackson v Neda Agha-Soltan

In 2009, after protests began after the reelection of President Mahmous Ahmadinejad in what many claimed was a rigged vote, Iran held the worlds attention (Steinhauer, 2013). A graphic video of the death of a young woman named Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot by a member of the Basij militia, became an international focal point and symbol. However as time passed, the media moved on.  Saman Arbabi, an Iranian-American journalist producer of weekly Persian-lnaguage political satire show ‘On Ten’, explains how the loss of American and Western attention on Iran affected protesters in the country.

The movement died exactly at the time Michael Jackson died! Michael’s death took over US media and Iran was hardly ever mentioned ever again. That really sucked because the Iranian slogan at the time was ‘Where is my vote?’ They were holding those signs in English so foreign press would acknowledge and broadcast their struggle for freedom. Once our focus shifted to Michael Jackson … many protesters felt left out in front of a brutal regime and lost their appetite to fight.” (Arbabi, 2013) 


Why does this happen? Why do we care more about the death of a washed up old music star, over a revolutionary uprising affecting millions of people? This is all thanks to commonly accepted, thought generally innocuous to the public ‘news values’.

  • Cultural proximity: Culturally distant will be passed by more easily and not be noticed
  • Relevance: An event may happen in a culturally distant place but still be loaded with meaning in terms of what it
  • Rarity: The more unexpected the event, the higher its chances of being included in news
  • Continuity: Once something has hit the headlines and be defined as “news” , then it will continue to be defined as news for some time even if the amplitude is reduced for some time even if the amplitude is reduced
  • Elite References: both in terms of nations and in terms of people
  • Negativity: Negative news will more easily be consensual and unambiguous
  • Composition: The story will be selected and arranged according to the editors sense of the balance of the whole bulletin
  • Personalisation: Wherever possible, events are seen as the actions of people as individuals

It was not that Michael Jackson is more important than the thousands who lost their lives in the 2009 Iranian uprisings – it was because large news corporations dictate what the general public care and don’t care about. We are more likely to read stories from the news values identified and therefore buy more papers. How sad have we become?