Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Trampling on the truth

Andrew Gilligan weighs in with an assessment of the failings of western media in tsunami devastated areas.

"You have to feel sorry for the 24-hour news people. There is an awful lot of space to fill. And since they haven't got time to go out much, they have taken to feeding off each other, producing worthy successors to those legendary media myths of previous big news events - the 'furious Afghan winter', the 'uprisings of the Arab street', the 'siege of Baghdad'."
Top of Gilligan's list of new myths is the "the race against time to feed the hungry story." In Sri Lanka.

Second is the story about how all the dead bodies will "spread disease" and the "new fears of killer cholera".

Third on the list is the tale of the "killer crocodiles" in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands "washed ashore" by the tsunami, who have been "stalking" villagers in the affected area ... (hadn't heard that one)

According to Gilligan, Sri Lanka is doing OK. The devastation is not as bad as the international media is making out.

I supppose it depends on your perspective. 30,000 + people killed in ten minutes sounds pretty devastating to me. To be fair though, Gilligan warns against complacency in the west - perhaps as a result of what he sees as sensational reporting - and corruption from local officials. Fairly standard fare.

But then he finishes with this:

"Before we become too self-satisfied at seeing the rich and poor worlds working together for once, we must add a sobering coda. The horrific death toll was because of a massive failure of the international community.

If the warnings issued in California and Hawaii, hours before the tsunami, had been passed on to the people on the other side of the planet whom it was going to hit, far fewer people would have been killed - though there would still have been devastation."

It's as if he set out to write two stories and halfway through the second one tossed it but kept the lead par and tacked it on to the bottom of the first story. This isn't a logical conclusion based on the rest of the piece, and it's incorrect.

As desirable as it would have been to have adequate warning of the tsunami, it didn't happen for a number of reasons. Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing, but dumping on the "international community" in general suggests Gilligan just wants to blame someone ... anyone.

And it adds an unintentional layerof irony to the heading The Australian's sub-editors have given his piece.

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