Media watch

LATEST : we’ll be discussing this on today’s show. I watched one British network last night who had their two main reporters with the anchor at the end and were told “well done and thanks” for covering the story. Another had a strap line “fears of food riots growing” even though there hadn’t been any.

Anyway,there’s been a lot of you commenting on the role of the media in Haiti.

This blogger for example questions the need for spaces on UN flights to go to journalists and wonders if it’s right to have “play-by-play” type reporting when someone is being dug out from the rubble.

He also wonders if people from media crews should put down their cameras and …well, help.

It’s a difficult area on how much journalists should help and of course they can’t help but interact : i saw the BBC’s Matt Frei during one of his pieces having to explain to desperate people at the airport that he had no work for them. 

I must admit i’ve been uncomfortable watching people being dug out of the rubble only to have a reporter crouching next to their stretcher delivering a “look-I’m-here-too” piece to camera.

And it’s hard to explain that aid isn’t getting through, while journalists clearly are.

And a blogger here  is concerned about negative stereotyping of Haitians (“when will the looting start ?”) and compares coverage to the aftermath of Katrina where – she says – white people taking from stores were described as “survivors” and black people “looters”.

Some too are also concerned that the media isn’t giving enough context about Haiti’s background, and history.

And to be fair, as you’ve seen , WHYS has been criticised by you broadcasting the sound of people in distress and for ignoring other stories (the latter is a lot easier to defend than the former).

I’d be grateful if you’d share your thoughts on what you are watching – and reading and listening to as this dreadful story unfolds.

49 Responses to “Media watch”

  1. 1 Nigel
    January 18, 2010 at 14:58

    I think that the BBC coverage has been superb. It has brought a sense of reality that touched the destruction, the logistical problems of getting aid in, the health issues and all of the above weaved in to a very human story. Without this the rest of the world, including those who have the power to do something about it would have no real idea of what the situation on the ground is. Keep it up BBC.

  2. January 18, 2010 at 15:07

    Journalists are doing their jobs.By and large they are responsible for the enormous amount of Good will and sympathy pouring in for the people of Haiti, even to people who do not know where Haiti is.At the same time reporters must not be over carried while reporting- I saw a tweet from Nuala that ‘A nation Has to take care of itself’-though well intentioned , it hurts people at the time of grief.In fact i have replied the tweet.That the Nation is not managing is for every one to see.Comments can wait.
    Intensive coverage and intrusive coverage and indifferent coverage are three aspects.The line demarcating intensive and intrusive coverage is thin and it has to come by experience.BBC team as I see it is doing a great job, barring a few off the cuff remarks, like judgmental reporting on looting .
    Let me take this opportunity of a TV cameraman in an Indian TV channel shooting pictures merrily grinning as a police officer lay dying, crying for water. This is inhuman coverage.This inhuman reporting must be avoided.

  3. 3 Livia Varju
    January 18, 2010 at 15:59

    It is necessary for the media to be in Haiti telling and showing the world the suffering and the needs, so that people will donate funds for relief. As for journalists helping, there are plenty of people just standing around or walking around who can be enlisted. What has really shocked me is the lack of lifting equipment after 8 days. It is heartbreaking to think of people trapped under heavy stones and concrete and slowly bleeding to death or dying of thirst or stifling to death because of the lack of equipment. And the main question in my mind is this: Haitian authorities knew that the country lies on a fault line between two tectonic plates and they knew a major earthquake could happen any time. So why did they not prepare, with sufficient medical supplies, lifting equipment, water and emergency food stocks???!
    Livia Varju – Geenva

  4. 4 Rob C
    January 18, 2010 at 16:18

    Sunday was watching a CBS’s news affairs programme [avail online] and they did a piece promoting Americain aid and its military helping earthquake victims in Haiti. No mention of bottlenecks or causes of – It was a basically a feel good fluff piece for domestic consumption about team America coming to the rescue.

  5. 5 Rob C
    January 18, 2010 at 16:21

    The programme I mentioned prior was the highly rated CBS’ 60 minutes.

  6. January 18, 2010 at 16:30

    I think the coverage by the media has been positive for the most part, in America I have been watching CNN and listening to BBC world news and have been pleasantly surprised by the way they have covered the earthquake, talking about the strength of the people, showing Haitians helping each other and the enormity of the disaster.

    However I too have been a little concerned about the emphasis on the need for safety and the almost hope that things will degenerate into looting so that it can be covered. I don’t consider looking for food when none is to be had looting, and we don’t know if (in those few times this has occurred) the men that rush to get the food then don’t then go back and share it with family.

    For the most part I have seen young Haitian men pulling people from the rubble, taking people to the hospital and looking after their families, I wish there would be more focus on this as there seems to be an idea that this only happens in non black people.

    I also wonder about the privacy of these people, I don’t know if I were pulled half naked from the rubble after having spent days under it, if I would want that image sent all over the world and to have a microphone shoved in my mouth as I am being carried to a hospital.

  7. 7 nora
    January 18, 2010 at 16:59

    In disasters, photography is pornography. It is a modern dilemma. A spoken word or written account can easily preserve some privacy and dignity to the subject. Only the best photographers with the best editors even attempt to avoid the fact that they are the search engines of gawkers. Nonetheless, we need to see the suffering or we won’t respond.

  8. January 18, 2010 at 17:08

    I miss Kofi Atta Annan I can’t help but think his focus would be less on the high level UN officials lost (as sad as it is), but on the poor Haitians (including those who worked for the UN but who seem to be ignored by the UN releases) that should be the focus at this time.

    I don’t think he would be so scared of poor, black people as to hold up aid until enough security can be put in place to help them. If help had been sent out early and regularly there would be no need of the security they seem to be waiting for before they send out aid.

    How many people have to die, because of the fear of these people?

    I also wonder why looting (hunting for food) needs to be stopped? Where exactly is this food going to go? Should it go to waste and rot while people are starving? If people need shelter and food and it is not being provided to them, then why on earth should they not be allowed to get it?

    I would love for the media to tell me exactly why all this aid is not getting to the people, when I see transport moving freely behind the news reporters. I hope I am wrong in my assessment and that there are logical reasons for this delay in the aid getting out of the airport.

    January 18, 2010 at 17:34

    This event is well covered, BBC has done a commendable job in sensitizing everyone. It is not a political debate; it is a disaster and people ought not to dwell on the negative side when Haitians do some negative things out of desperation. We cannot blame the people of Haiti 100% since there were other authorities like the UN. If Haiti was failure, it was out of intereference from outsiders who have all along imposed selfish agenda on the country, toppling leadership and supervising the growing of a 2-class social division. Some people have been living well with all amenities while majority are left paupers.
    The media did not report the plight of the foreigners who resided there in droves save for the UN staff. What about the many NGOs – how did they fare? Are the new teams arriving there more concerned with their own citizens or are they helping everyone? Just a thought.
    Haitians have demonstrated a strong spirit of survival. I hope they come out of this with a strong will to correct the reputation of their little beautiful nation when finally the all the chips are down.

  10. 10 Sylvia Coles
    January 18, 2010 at 18:46

    What appalls me is the fact that all these hundreds of journalists and their back–up crews are using precious food, water, fuel, communications equipment and helicopters. This must mean that Haitians are getting LESS than they should be.
    Why can’t the media, just for once, work together and have a ‘Disaster Plan’ where they nominate one crew to cover the story in different languages and then pass it on to all other media outlets throughout the world free of charge. They can all contribute to the cost of that one team. Or are they all so busy wanting to increase their individual reader and viewer numbers just to increase their PROFITS????

    • 11 AP
      January 19, 2010 at 19:12

      I’ve been thinking the same thing since I heard stories years ago about Dan Rather arriving in earthquake-stricken San Francisco in a limo with catered food.
      What would make me feel than being a disaster victim with a camera in my face would be being a disaster victim with a camera in my face that’s held by a well-fed, well-hydrated, clean, safe media person with shelter and a home to return to.

  11. 12 steve/oregon
    January 18, 2010 at 19:01

    Hati as sad as it is is what it is there is nothing to report time to move on to real news i am sick of Hati

  12. 13 Roberto
    January 18, 2010 at 19:47

    I only listen to the general NPR/beeb broadcasts which reinforce the reality of modern media, ie, “Big Disasters Sell” and there’s no way around that’s how western culture works.

    These people were largely cursed at birth with a terrible legacy too few have been able to overcome. The headlines might as well read “Earthquake Flattens Port au Shanty Town” for all the relevance to average world citizen who doesn’t know where Haiti is.

    One can only hope and pray that some some good leaders emerge from the rubble to rebuild Haiti into a fruitful, modern democracy of the people. Heck, we need some of that in the US, so it’s not just Haiti.

    It’s great to see folks rally round a cause, but I’m also concerned with the inevitable fraud that will come out of misuse of the aid.

  13. January 18, 2010 at 22:39

    Dear Steve in Oregon, I am a little confused how you can state that possibly the greatest natural disaster in living memory is not news? Considering how much time the US media spent on Paris Hilton, the octomum, blonds that vanish in tropical countries, and of course our beloved Sara Palin, I am glad we are finally covering real news.

    When a plane of a 100-some Westerners goes down, we hear about it for months, please explain to me again why we should now stop reporting on the death of som 50,000 to 200,000 people after a few days?

    Anyhow, there is hope, just tune into Foxnews, they seem to share you opinion that brown children dying is not newsworthy! Why is it always my fellow Americans that seem to care so little about the welfare of those that are not rich, blond and American? Sigh!

    Please keep reporting on this for as long as it takes.

  14. 15 eSCe
    January 19, 2010 at 07:54

    When comparing how the megascale disasters tsunami of Indonesia and the Sichuan earthquakes were so well managed and Haiti ‘s earthquakes are being manage now. I conclude from the various reports that US is more an obstacle than an asset. Their taking over of the airport and sitting on tonnes of relief supply and obstructing other countries contributions by appointing themselves in charge.
    The other disasters managed by SEAisian neighbours with Australian. Later american and the rests has got no leaders.

  15. 16 @guykaks
    January 19, 2010 at 12:25

    Keep it up BBC for the wide coverage and Accurate report you submit..I feel for u the people of Haiti at this very disturbing and desperate moment.I believe everything happens for a reason and a season.myheartfelt wishes

  16. 17 Colin D
    January 19, 2010 at 14:16

    Why hasn’t more aid arrived faster It seems to me that unnecessarily large hoards of media people rushed into Port-au-Prince airport and created the original congestion and resulting chaos so that they could be there to cynically report on the slow arrival of aid .

    Was it really necessary – for example – for Katie Courig to anchor CBS news from Haiti ? I also note that she didn’t remain there for very long. Perhaps she couldn’t stand the stink of death and decay ?

    In a situation such as this, every unnecessary person arriving into the area is an extra person to be supplied with food, water and other necessities which takes away aid to the suffering residents. .

  17. January 19, 2010 at 14:58

    Salaam gang,
    I do have a question for Jon Williams : How do you decide if a material coming from Haiti is ”too graphic” to be broadcast on air ? What are your criteria ? With my love… Yours forever, Lubna in Baghdad…

  18. 19 Rob C
    January 19, 2010 at 15:01

    Indeed, last Friday when American news anchor Diane Sawyer for ABC reported the tension and ominous unease she felt from the crowd she found herself surrounded by reality must’ve kicked in HARD, for no sooner she was on a plane and back in the states.

  19. 20 patti in cape coral
    January 19, 2010 at 15:23

    I have to agree that the BBC news coverage has been excellent. I agree with nevenera that this is the most newsworthy story and I am definitely more interested in this story than in balloon boy, Paris Hilton, or octomom. I like Sylvia Cole’s idea about cooperation between news outlets so they don’t take up much needed resources.

    The only think that makes it difficult is that the average person cooperates as much as they can, donating money and goods, etc., but the coverage makes it seem like we aren’t doing any good, and it can be discouraging not to get some good news. On BBC a couple of days ago a Spanish aid worker was telling the story about the rescue of a 2-year-old boy whose whole family had died around him when their home collapsed. He coudn’t move because the dead body of a family member was laying across him, but once they got him out they saw he was virtually unscathed. The aid worker said she got goosepimples just talking about it, and I got goosepimples listening to it. It was a much welcome story, a little light in a very dark room.

  20. 21 Roy, Washington DC
    January 19, 2010 at 15:43

    Without journalists, many people worldwide would not even know about what is going on on Haiti. Among other implications, this would result in dramatically less aid being given to the Haitian people. Yes, a balance has to be struck, and it’s a delicate one, but journalists serve an important role.

  21. 22 T
    January 19, 2010 at 16:11

    How would YOU feel if you’re were a survivor and some foreign camera crew stuck a camera in your face? And then, as it’s bound to happen, some reporter says, how do you feel?

    Would you be angry? Would you scream and curse at them? Would you attack them? In the past I’ve seen this happen in other disasters. And every time I’ve never seen the reporter in question ever apologize on camera for doing it.

    And probably never will.

    January 19, 2010 at 17:45

    I don’t think it would be good to criticize the media though there are those who chose to politic instead of showing the ugly reality. Put yourself in the shoes of journalists – rotting corpse, stress, stench, hysteria etc. They have had to put up with all that.
    It is not good for us to have curiosity as to what is happening and then get appalled when they lay it bare as it is. My time spent on the telly with regards to this issue was well rewarded with details and I can only praise the courage, devotion and motivation exhibited by journalists until all of were moved. My thanks to all of them. Those who didn’t do so definitely will learn from the others since its not the last story.

  23. 24 Alex V - Chicago
    January 19, 2010 at 18:19

    Some of the American media here have analyzed this as a political aspect of President Obama, which has resulted in an overwhelming amount of criticism. I find this interesting as I don’t see this as hurting his political image.

  24. 25 TomK in Mpls
    January 19, 2010 at 18:50

    There are news shows, or show companies such as CNN, NBC and even BBC. These need to sell attention. Bad news sells and in general, people like to be shocked into whatever. But then there are news services like Reuters and AP. Do to their market, they don’t need to sensationalize. It could be helpful if only news services were allowed to go to crisis situations. Some news is essential. Sensationalism is only good for sales.

  25. 26 Alan Hester
    January 19, 2010 at 19:14

    The BBC’s treasure is that it does not portray the news like the American Media. Almost all media outlets in America are glorifying the aid effort, with little or no mention of the problems of aid delivery. The American media seem to go along with the American Government, which seems to think that they must import guns before they can feed or help anybody. Also, I must thank the BBC (at least through their presenters) for not protraying the bigotry that seems to be so rampant through some of the American media.

  26. 27 Francisco from Spain
    January 19, 2010 at 19:18

    I think is neccesary to show shocking images from desasters like this to raise atention from people around the world, otherwise few people would pay attention to them, however sensationalism should never be used to broadcast this desasters

  27. 28 Alex V - Chicago
    January 19, 2010 at 19:18

    With regard to the comment that Adrian made about keeping a team there, would it be a good investment for news organizations to keep a bureau in Port-au-Prince?

  28. 29 Nicole in Portland Oregon
    January 19, 2010 at 19:19

    I just want to say I as an American have been relying on the BBC for reporting on Haiti, because I find their coverage to always be far more intelligent and fair-minded than any American news outlet. But I find this to often be the case with the BBC vs. American media on international stories.

  29. 30 ASILLISA
    January 19, 2010 at 19:22

    It is important for reporters to cover such stories, if for nothing else to raise awareness and possibly help raise emergency funds to help with the situation. However, this does not mean the reporters couldnt have spread the word from the united states and have been just as effective. When reporting a story interferes with getting help to a disaster area, it is counterproductive.
    How should the Haitians look at these reporters, who most likely have plenty of food and water and adequate shelter for themSELVES. Unless these reporters can double as translators, doctors/nurses, or help in the rescue efforts then the reporters should stay out of the way and try their best to help raise awareness from home.

    • 31 Ruthlessma
      January 19, 2010 at 19:40

      I agree Asillisa. The only doctor/reporter that I’ve seen so far is Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN. He was reporting while checking an infant for a possible skull fracture. They may have reported more heroic actions, but I can only take in the terrible news for so long. Keep these poor souls in your prayers.

  30. January 19, 2010 at 19:23

    The media coverage should not be censored or regulated in any way. However, the impression given by doctors on the ground was that planes were allowed in at the Port Au Prince airport on a first-come-first-served basis, without any regard to emergency priorities. Further, the impression is that VIP guests, including mainstream media anchors, were given precedence over emergency search and rescue personnel.

  31. 33 Skeptik
    January 19, 2010 at 19:26

    On the BBC’s website, they have an ‘aid workers diary’ post. These arent mere scribblings, they must have taken time to write. Surely aid workers in Haiti have better things to do than blog for the BBC, or maybe not. I feel that all these journalists are making things worse. Reporting insecurity and ‘looting’ is scaring aid agencies into demand security, same as Katrina. Large numbers of journalists also use resources by their mere presence there

  32. 34 Jonathan (sunny San Francisco)
    January 19, 2010 at 19:26

    Alan Hester describes an entirely different “American media” than any I’ve read, seen, or heard. I’ve heard all about problems of aid delivery on commercial American TV.

    About media in general, without them the world wouldn’t know about this disaster. Obviously their role has been helpful.

  33. 35 Scott
    January 19, 2010 at 19:35

    Nice game of softball, Ros. Way to really ask the hard questions of your journalist pals. Sorry to be so sarcastic, but I can’t stand listening to these reporters justifying their careers, as if journalism has a higher purpose. Get out of the way and let the aid workers work, or maybe use the resources that allowed you to get to Haiti the day after the earthquake to provide aid.

  34. 36 Alan Hester
    January 19, 2010 at 19:41

    We seem to forget that the coverage on Haiti is very reminiscence of the coverage in New Orleans. I have not doubt that the US will try to take over more of Haiti

  35. 37 Mr. Kawakubo {PORTLAND}
    January 19, 2010 at 19:42

    Any reasonable account of Haiti—the culture, the place, the history and the economy—on the whole is not positive. To state this is being statistically accurate and honest. The overreaction by many, to accurate depictions of the country is embarrassing. If you live in economic and political despair it is bound to effect more then the pocketbook.

    It is pretty obvious that the breadth of the disaster would not have been as wide if the country was not already in such turmoil. This doesn’t mean Haitians are bad people—it just means they have many issues to overcome do to circumstances, perhaps, largely beyond their control.

  36. 38 scmehta
    January 20, 2010 at 07:00

    The United Nations, so far & more or less, is only showing the ‘Moon’ to the Haitians; whereas the United States has given them the feel of ‘Us’ in this tragic catastrophe.

  37. 39 Luca
    January 20, 2010 at 11:21

    The BBC has done OK. I should hope so: it must be the world’s best funded news organisation, after all. Yet it seems that even with news size matters. And it seems to me that the news flows are mirroring the flows of aid: the bigger the news organisation the more unwieldy and control-focussed the delivery.

    Perhaps the sheer volume of airtime large broadcaters have at their disposal invites them to say more than they know but the result has been some contradictory reporting, as well as predictable national-language bias ( the Chinese, Cubans and Icelandic rescuers and medical personnel were on site and providing effective relief far before the behemoth US endevour stepped into gear).

    You also feel an uncomfortable pressure to arrive at conclusions, offer insights, provide emotional epiphanies, even when these are simply unjustified. Simple reporting would suffice, cut the colour commentary. I have always enjoyed EuroNews “no comment” features and the BBC could learn from these in such times.

    I have appreciated, on the other hand, smaller independent broadcasters online whose facilities and objectives are clearly more humble, but whose unfiltered, coarsely edited witness feels has more immediacy and authenticity.

    PS: I am also reminded that at this time last year the BBC refused to air an appeal by the Disaster Relief Fund in aid of Gaza. During an interview with a volunteer doctor yesterday what struck me was his description of the devastation in Port au Prince: “It’s like Gaza,” he said.

  38. 40 robin rattansingh
    January 20, 2010 at 14:02

    News reporters in rescent times as taken a hands off approach in situations such as these,Mostly because of liability purposes.If a reporter for instance tries to help in good faith only to cause more harm than good then its part blame on that person but full shouldered responsibility on the reporting firm.While i do understand the whole issue of general and all out help
    it’s hard to accept but some lines CANNOT be crossed.

  39. January 20, 2010 at 19:34

    it might sound silly,but why is the U.S. desperate to be seen as a leader in aid to Haiti;after all,they did’nt get top marks when their own were in need after Huricane Katrina

    • 42 Chen
      January 20, 2010 at 22:36

      It does not matter to the people in Haiti which country would “be seen” as the leader in the relief efforts, or who gets the most credits. If the US wants to be the leader, so be it. If one more life can be saved by it, I would think it worth all the praises.

  40. 43 joe
    January 20, 2010 at 21:35

    Don’t call it looting. It is people salvaging what they need to survive. People lost everything. They are just surviving. The new is making it sound so horrible that people are taking food from supermarkets when they are starving. If they are taking a TV from a store it is probably to trade for food or water. Most of the things being taken would probably be bulldozed with the rest of the building.

  41. 44 T
    January 20, 2010 at 21:50

    I’m watching different stories worldwide online re: Haiti. And the vast majority are are pushing the same points:

    The U.S. has come to establish order. Because no one else can do it.
    Shots of food being thrown out of helicopters to crowds below.
    Always positive interviews with U.S. military near the airport.
    “Rioting is rampant. But it’s not a serious problem”. (An actual line from an SBS Australia report).

    What don’t you see?:
    The States turning away doctors and aid.
    The people outside of the capitol.
    The fact that the U.S. military denying people and aid coming in is seriously hurting lots of injured people.

    Where’s the accountability?

  42. 45 Oz
    January 20, 2010 at 23:49

    I am disgusted by the BBC news at 6 broadcast in the UK from today, 20th January. They were filming a poor woman in labour, camera right in her face. Having given birth myself that is the last thing I would want. Just sensationalist reports by reporters stuck in the own little world of getting a story! I wonder if all the resources that are going into providing for the reporter and crew would not be better spend on the people that really need it? The Haitians and the volunteers that are helping out! I am sure no reporters are there working for free…

  43. January 21, 2010 at 02:24

    The line between appropriate and necessary reporting of events, and milking them to make money and improve ratings, is not all that fine yet often crossed by celebrated TV journalists. Reporting on the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti is unfortunately another example of this.
    No words can adequately describe the agony of the people of Haiti. While the need to report is not debatable, the way the aftermath of the earthquake has been played, and REPLAYED ENDLESSLY on every channel, is deplorable. Even unethical I will argue.
    The fact that there is devastation all around in Haiti, by all means could be an understatement. Does that justify showing repeatedly the footage of people’s suffering. What, if anything, is the point of that? Does it make sense to any person in their right mind to ask someone “how they feel” with their homes destroyed?

    It would be a welcome relief for the suffering people that the journalists be an extra set of hands to get aid to the people. The way it seems now, the journalists with their respective camera crews seem to be getting in the way- either asking the people of Haiti or the US Marines there to help, plainly obvious questions.
    While big names among TV reporters from every major network are there in Haiti reporting on the misery inflicted on by the earthquake, who is reporting on the reporters themselves, and their sense of responsibility and ethics? I respectfully ask that media personnel reflect on themselves – can this be called responsible journalism?

  44. 47 Tom
    January 21, 2010 at 03:20


    Wish the BBC would stop listening to every Tom, Dick and Harry, who works for the UN. If you are going to quote the UN then use the leadership of the UN looking at the entire picture. If the UN could do it better then the US military where are they and why are they not doing it? Let them put their actions where their mouth is? As usual the UN is all talk/complaining and no action…

    Get Real; Airdrops are better then nothing, if you are dying of thirst!!!!!!!!!!!…

  45. 48 Matthew M
    January 22, 2010 at 14:26

    When I’m under a collapsed building I want help, not pity. The media is more than able to syndicate news from fewer sources and therefore allow more space on flights for people who can do and not just watch.

    It will of course mean there are less journalists up for awards.

  46. January 23, 2010 at 12:22

    Any crisis is like an iceberg. Media coverage is always and only at the tip.

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