When breaking news backfires
PUBLIC memory is short. Twelve years (October 8, 2005) is not too long a time to forget the devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan’s northern areas and Islamabad with its catastrophic fallout obliterating life and property and gearing NGOs, national and international governments to play their respective roles in relief measures. It is sharing with our family of concerned media and experts to rise over and above self and look into reminisce of an earthquake when breaking news backfires. Media continued to compete with the breaking news of this massive earthquake. It was heard, seen and read such and such media was the first with the special news report of this national upheaval.
Generally print media supplements and electronic media reports were merely news-oriented rather than investigative and educative for the common man on one of the deadliest earthquakes of Pakistan with 86,000 to 87,351 dead, 69,000 to 75,266 injured and 2.8 million displaced. Such print media supplements and electronic media reports were more of the same news as already disseminated as routine news published or broadcast mentioning about the colossal loss to life and property, relief measures by government and NGOs, appeals for donations and national and international concerns in this regard.
While news regularly given by media was of no creativity for a supplement or special report, none of the print and electronic media organizations could mobilize expert opinion from concerned scientists, engineers, seismologists, environmentalists and town planners to educate the common man about preventive measures in case of a severe earthquake. Thinking beyond the breaking news syndrome or competing for the first ones to break news which is regular news and no ingenuity or innovation for special reports or supplements, media minds with concerned experts could have conceived preventive management amid earthquakes for the layman as well as for the so-called opulent, educated and elitist class.
Forgotten amid ritual news! No media report of the ruinous 2005 earthquake gave common tips on the deadly consequences of glass, glittering and glaring mirrors, bulbs, chandeliers, sliding glass windows and doors from commoner’s homes to posh havens, despite possibilities of terrible in-house glass destruction! Elapsed with routine news! No specialist input to media supplements on the grievous 2005 tremor could educate the commoner how, where and when to seek shelter in the wake of a cruel quake—indoors, outdoors, under the stair cases, in basements, under strong and secure tables, at the sills and rims of entrances or covering with pillows under the beds of a bedroom!
Eclipsed with regular news! No special report could render expert advice on any unforeseen electric or gas leakages, fire emergencies, medical first aid boxes, physical security from thefts, robberies and dacoities, importance of helping old, sick and ailing with solace, mobility and safety, coping with the aftershocks! Stuck in just ordinary news! No professional advice on how to make home sturdier: bolting bookcases to wall studs, installing strong latches on cupboards, strapping the water heater to wall studs, locating a place in each room that one can go to in case of a quake, a spot where nothing is likely to fall, like a doorframe, keeping canned food, dust masks and goggles, battery-operated radio and flashlights, knowing how to turn off gas and water mains.
Blurred with beyond news! No specialized guidance despite specialists’ galore at special reports on what to do when shaking begins as for example, dropping down, taking cover under a desk or table and holding on, staying indoors until the shaking stops, staying away from bookcases or furniture that can fall, fire alarms and sprinklers going off during a quake, if outdoors, staying away from buildings, trees, power lines. dropping to the ground, if in a car, slowing down, driving to a clear place, staying in car until shaking stops. Such are merely commoners tips which our illustrious media and concerned experts needed to demonstrate in reports rather than looking for hollow claims in competing for such breaking news that tends to backfire!
— The writer is HoD Public Affairs and Senior Faculty at CBM-IoBM, Korangi Ceek, Karachi.
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When breaking news backfires