Friday, January 23, 2009

Fiji floods - more on aftermath reporting

JAMES MURRAY has been busy with his new blog Views on the News with an ethical take on the media. Half of his pieces so far have been on the Pacific. Good, given the relative under exposure elsewhere in the NZ media. His latest comment has been another bite at the issue of disaster coverage after my comments in one of his recent postings. I had called for more in-depth coverage of the region and less of an obsession with crises, coups and disasters. In other words, a lot more focus on the "why" - backgrounding of stories and the followups. This time, James has talked to one of his colleagues at TV3, Michael Morrah, recently back from covering the Fiji floods. James quotes Michael as saying that covering the floods opened up the door to other stories:
Poor infrastructure – especially roads, governance and health care are a few examples. Unfortunately, because of the lack of resources in many New Zealand newsrooms, and potentially the lack of appetite by viewers and readers, other local newsworthy events don’t get the airtime they deserve in New Zealand.

Exactly my point. It is the stories that follow that also need good coverage. While Michael says disaster stories can act as stepping stones to further reportage, he acknowledges a major problem - the reluctance of media organisations to put the necessary financial resources into followups and backgrounders. And this is a serious hurdle for any improvement. The available newsroom resources are threadbare compared with dollars thrown at international sport coverage, for example - providing Kiwi teams and participants are to the fore. Yet according to a national survey in the latest Listener (issue 3586) only 30 percent of New Zealanders have a strong interest in sport.

James offers a tragic story by Michael about Aquila Drisco who lost his daughter in the floods as an example of Michael's reporting. Incidentally, presenter of the story is Rebecca Singh - herself a daughter of Fiji and to my mind the best newsreader to come out of Fiji TV and arguably the current best in NZ. No doubt with her track record, it has been a boost for TV3 coverage of Fiji issues having her on the team.

Meanwhile, Fiji's regime plans to spend close to F$2.6 million on food rations to be distributed to door-to-door for 103,257 people - almost an eighth of the country's population - in the ravaged Western Division. The government announced the food ration for 30 days would include 45kg rice, 50 kg flour, 25kg dhal, packet of milk, 50kg sugar, oil, 48 tins of fish. The floods aftermath was Fiji's interim PM Voreqe Bainimarama's excuse for the postponement of the Pacific Islands Forum special summit in Port Moresby on the road back to democracy until February 10. ReliefWeb estimates infrastructure damage from the floods to be almost $55 million.

Views on the News - James Murray
Michael Morrah story on the Fiji floods
NZ Listener
Fiji floods situation report - ReliefWeb
PNG decision to delay forum throws Pacific leaders' plans into chaos

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