The importance of media in crisis

Percentage of time devoted to rural news on TV

We see crisis situations happen all the time. Be they natural or man made. Media plays an important role in dispersing situation about them. However, I find that there is crucial lack of coverage in natural disasters that is counterproductive to the recovery of the region.

If there is a bomb blast, for example. Along with news about causes and the actual incident, we have reports of the dead and injured. We have journalists who will go to hospitals and see how the injured are being treated and so on. It is relatively easy in cities, because cities have a lot of journalists and the victims can be easily accessed.

I have seen many times on Twitter. News of the injured is often followed by inquiry into their well being. Philanthropic citizens and helping organizations follow up on this information. I have seen people make tweets asking how to contact the victims to sponsor their children’s education, for example.

If even a fraction of those expressing intent to provide aid actually act on it, that is powerful help above and beyond what relief the government provides.

Contrast this with natural disasters. They strike where they will. Not necessarily within easy reach of the media, likely not easily accessible, particularly for calamities like the ones currently facing us – vast flooding, massive earthquake. However, at this time, I think the media needs to consciously set up information bridges. The more the needs of the people are visible, the more people hearing them will be alterted to the need and inclined to rise to the occasion.

When those devastated are in the thousands, no matter how good a government is (and I am not saying that ours is that exceptional) it is still impossible to bring life to a comfortable status for all. It is impossible to compensate for massive personal losses. The best that can be done is token amounts and ensuring shelter and medical aid for all. Possibly some basic housing to be built.

Compare this with enormous numbers of citizens living in plenty, having more things than they need, having the affordability and inclination to help. Thousands of people is miniscule compared with the number of people living in conditions of being able to aid. Really miniscule. Even if a very, very small number of these are able to help…. it is a large quantity. And it will supplement the aid provided by the government.

The other thing is that international media picks up from local media. If our coverage of devastated people needing help is low, we literally keep it out of the world’s attention too. Maybe a couple of large media outlets with presence in India will send over a guy or so to report and come up with an outstanding article, but there can’t be the attention to detail and necessity that is required.

International aid organizations don’t register the urgency of the need as strongly… it is a domino effect that didn’t happen, in a way.

There are some things media could easily do:

  • Provide clear information of the damage in every calamity – we hardly know anything about the floods in Orissa, for example.
  • Provide information on rescue and relief work in perspective of the disaster. More important than repetitive shots of one rescue or details of operations, it is important to show how efficient they are in meeting the need of the situation. How much is done, how much remains, any obstacles, etc.
  • Instead of asking people what they suffered in the media interviews, ask clearly what their situation is, and what help is urgently needed. If there are items in short supply, state them clearly, so that people with ability to provide can pick up the challenge.
  • Interview relief workers and ask them what they are doing, and how can people help them. Clear contact information, information for donating, information of where to send material supplies donated, information on how to volunteer to make the work lighter.
  • In remote regions where it is difficult to get reporters on the ground, it might be useful to request citizens with reasonable language skills to act like citizen journalists and get the information out. Hiring local bloggers may be an option if the region is not too backward. If people are assured that you are listening, they will be glad to go out and collect information for you. Someone will.

This  is important. If you notice any great calamities, the aid they get is directly proportional to how much the media pays attention to them. Easy recent comparisons would be Haiti and Pakistan.

It is an easy contribution all you media people can make for your fellow countrymen. And it will only bring you higher TRPs because people WANT to know this kind of information.

I don’t presume to tell you your job, but I can tell you that I rarely watch TV, but I would watch your channel if you could tell me crucial things about our people in Orissa and Sikkim.

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