Disaster and Media Disaster

During the past few days we saw all forms of media actively engaging in reporting about the floods which cost the country hundreds of lives and caused massive infrastructure and property damage. As usual the Sri Lankan media, especially TV channels and radio stations went a further step into collecting necessary dry rations and engaging in humanitarian assistance to people who are affected by this natural calamity. This too like anything else is viewed with mixed opinions.

At a moment when the entire nation is going through a national crisis it is true that we must help each other in every way possible and Sri Lankans who are extremely sensitive to issues such as this, do everything possible even going beyond their limits to assist fellow human beings who are in trouble. The media, very tactfully, are making this an opportunity for self promotion.

There’s nothing to argue about the assistance provided through these campaigns run by the media organizations. It should be highly appreciated because they are doing something that we as individuals will not be able to do. They collect massive amounts of dry rations and other necessities and distribute them to the people in need very effectively by positively exploiting their contacts. Hence there’s no two words about the positive impact on what they are doing for the flood affected people. But the question arises when looking at the manner in which they conduct these flood relief campaigns.

During the first couple of days when the natural disaster hit Sri Lanka, we saw media doing their job perfectly by reporting what was happening in flood affected areas and weather forecast for the days to come, so that people can move away from areas prone to danger. However, since like the third day, the flood relief campaigns started under different names by almost all TV and radio stations. Some of these campaigns have run under the same name for years to help people who were affected by various disasters and as I mentioned earlier, they in fact have done a great job. However, these days, from morning till night, we see all TV channels and radio channels trying to convince the public that they are the most reliable media cooperation which can distribute goods among flood victims and hence win the trust of people and convince them to donate their goods to the safe hands of these media companies.

As I said earlier, yes it should be highly appreciated. But underlying this facade of extending a helping hand to the people is their need to outshine the other competing channels. They are in a rat race to show the viewers that they do a better job than the other  TV and radio stations. For this purpose they go to affected areas and question the victims about how they feel about the flood relief programme launched by their respective channels and those people who at this time have lost all their possessions at this moment are made feel helpless to a point where they willingly speak well of the service provided by those media companies. We should also keep in mind that these kinds of situations also create a strong sense of loyalty, gratefulness and indebtedness in the people to are affected by the natural disaster.

But if we really think of this situation, whose donations are these? All the donations that are distributed by these media companies are donations handed over to them by the ordinary people of Sri Lanka who believe that as a reputed TV/radio station they would perform the duty well. This in fact is not a false faith. The goods are indeed handed over to the victims through various means and that itself is highly appreciated. But what about millions of money they earn through advertisements and what about the money they give to their listeners and viewers randomly by barging into their houses at odd hours? Why don’t they spend at least 1% of the profit they earn throughout the year during a crisis such as this? We, as informed citizens of the country, should try our best to improve the level of media literacy of individuals around us because if people of Sri Lanka were media literate, these media corporations would not degrade to this level. We have never seen TV and radio channels of other countries being involved in disaster situations such as this in this manner. They only focus on giving accurate information to the citizens and also on pointing out what should be done to avoid such situations in the future.

Also on the other hand,  when media organizations handle the situations, it will give opportunities for the corrupt government officials to gain profit from the millions of donations received from foreign countries such as India, China, Pakistan and USA. This is what happened during tsunami times and we cannot expect anything different this time as well.

At least this time let’s hope that the TV and radio stations will keep reminding the responsible authorities that a long term solution should be taken to avoid occurrences such as these floods because as a developing nation, we cannot afford to undergo disastrous floods every year and lose hundreds of lives and property! This is the real responsibility of the media, i.e. to keep pushing the responsible government institutions to take necessary actions to provide a secure environment to its citizens and avoid tragedies like this!


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