INSIGHT: Just Media Lost in the Flood

INTERN INSIGHT: This opinion piece has been prepared by an intern of the AIIA (NSW). The views are the intern’s and should not be interpreted as a reflection of the AIIA (NSW).

In October, Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in the West Atlantic provided reporters and journalists with a number of focal points on which to fill the month’s tabloids. The Hurricane’s devastating impact on the region was drawn across a multitude of topics, particularly its effects on the US Presidential race. Sandy also prompted analysts to scrutinise the government’s response, drawing comparisons with the insufficient responses to Sandy’s destructive sibling, Katrina, in 2005. Not only did Sandy provide press the opportunity to exercise their journalistic creativity, it also provided another stark example of unequal, disproportionate and ultimately inadequate media reporting.

Discriminately, the vast majority of news stories that were aired throughout the fateful week, and continue to surface to date, are US focused; those who were toiling with the effects of the Hurricane in America were devoted more airtime than those who had lost their lives in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Roy Glenslade of the Guardian UK documented the distinct lack of value given to human life, writing:

But where in all this week’s media coverage are the human-interest stories out of the Caribbean? Do we hear about the resilience of the Bahamian people and how they will restore their economy? What about those dead? So far there hasn’t been any and I don’t expect to be reading about it from any western publication. Part of the definition of news is proximity and western media companies rarely go out of their way to bring thoughtful vivid human stories of places far away.

His piece, however, missed the opportunity to explore an ongoing trend of public bias which is, too, at fault for advocating a perpetual cycle of biased consumer-journalistic foci. Social media sites and crowd source sites such as Wikipedia, which are contributed to and run by the general public, reflect the bias and inconsistency. Reflecting social awareness and concern, there is a tragic, disproportionate amount of material available. For example, the Hurricane Sandy main feature on Wikipedia offers just six small paragraphs covering the six other countries affected by Sandy meanwhile the US enjoys 41 paragraphs. But the it also poses an interesting question as to what perpetuates the cycle most: consumer interest or the availability of media reporting. ie does the coverage reflect what the general public wish to see?

This trend of incommensurate coverage is not a new feature of the journalistic landscape. Journalism is almost always governed by its shareholders, its economic value, national and ethnic viewpoints, religion and cultural hegemonic bias. In illustration, the US 2012 Paralympic Games broadcaster was lambasted for its insufficient, come non-existent coverage of the Games. NBC’s indifference in airing a respectable amount of Paralympic coverage drew substantial criticism, with NBC citing sponsor and consumer fatigue for the considerable shortfall; global commentators targeted the jugular, campaigning against the apparent undervaluation of disabled athletes.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another such issue, which is particularly controversial and unquestionably biased. Western media is continuously accused of providing an almost unfettered account of events through the lens of pro-Western stakeholders – almost always synonymous with the Israeli perspective – which is matched on the other side by pro-Arab – read pro-Palestinian – journalism. CNN and Sky News are two such Western broadcasters that provide coverage, which is often criticised for its biased reporting; while Al Jazeera, a broadcaster which provides substantial pro-Arab coverage, covers the other side.

Hurricane Sandy’s coverage provides profound illustration of this phenomenon, highlighting a gross facet of modern journalism and tenet of McLurg’s Law, which argues that the media discriminates against certain ethnicities in favour of Westerners. Reflecting on the tone and focus of the journalism in October, the disproportionate coverage of events suggests nothing less than the assigning of value to human life.

It is an uncomfortable truth that our preferred preconceptions of human equality appear to be untrue. Human life appears to have a valuation attached as a result of market value; who will add value to media sources.

Simon Asfour – AIIA (NSW)



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