When the news of the catastrophe broke on Sunday, early estimates put the number of dead at around 5,000. By the end of Tuesday, that number had jumped to over 50,000. News anchors and reporters regularly updated the audience on the "latest" figures, and "news tickers" at the bottom of the screen flashed casualty numbers like so much stock market information or so many football scores.Anyway, it's a short and interesting read - the point is try not to get too wrapped up in the numbers...it's a humanitarian disaster, and we should be focusing on how to best help those who need it. If you're STILL interested in comparing the death numbers of disasters, this one has only recently surpassed the number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war...
As the numbers continue to grow, however, my humanity and compassion seem to diminish. Initial horror upon hearing the news has morphed into an urge to hear more updates and to see more video footage of massive waves washing away cars, hotels, boats, and, in case we forget, people. As the numbers rocket upward, I play a macabre guessing game. How high will the death count go? 100,000? 200,000? Could it be a quarter of a million? The numbers are so huge, and my experience with death on this scale (or any scale, for that matter) so minuscule, that I simply cannot comprehend what is going on, Statistics are the only thing I can lean on.
None of this is to say that this is not a story worthy of round-the-clock coverage, because it is. What I am suggesting, however, is that we should be thinking about the mode of the coverage: the obsession with death tolls (most of which are inaccurate anyway), the repetition of horrific footage, and close-up pictures of obviously grieving family members.
Coverage of the crisis is needed to alert the world to what is a massive humanitarian disaster, and showing death is a part of that. What is not needed, however, is coverage that panders to the dark, voyeuristic sides of our psyches.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Media coverage of tsunami...
So, it's pretty easy to get caught up in the coverage of what's going on over on the other side of the world. But it's important to remember that the death-toll numbers are such abstractions that we lose focus on what's going on. Common Dreams has posted a good article on the obsession with the number: