Thursday, May 22, 2008

Burma, China continue....

I missed this gem from the Guardian the other day about the broadcasters squabbling over their takes on the disasters. Interesting, in between the insults that they are throwing at each other, Jon Williams of the BBC talks about "throwing money" at these two stories.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Comment is free.....
I had the pleasure of being asked to write for the Guardian's CiF site yesterday about the media coverage of Burma and China - you can find the piece here. It was interesting for me to sit down and think why these disasters are still in the news, when other disasters - Hurricane Stan, the Java mudslides, the Peruvian earthquake in the past - have not done so; and what we can learn from this in order to improve reporting in future. 
It was also interesting - and instructive - to read the comments.  Several seemed to think I was against disaster reporting; not my intention, what I am concerned about is how to sustain good humanitarian reporting in future.
However I was particularly struck by one by Liuzhoukaf who pointed out that it was wrong to say that there had been little citizen journalism from China and Burma; that there had been in China and if it had not been recognised in the West then that was because it was in Chinese. S/he makes a good point; I was thinking in terms of the British media (which used 5 mins of UGC video at News at Ten on Monday which I mentioned at the top of the piece) and did not make that clear enough. 
Of course as mentioned earlier there are claims that news of the earthquake broke on Twitter. Perhaps in writing the piece quickly I did not make it clear as it should have been. With Burma the situation is slightly different; as one producer said to me 'the cyclone succeeded where the junta failed' - the huge amount of UGC we saw after the protests last year has not been repeated because of sheer logistics, and power failures. But as Roland Buerk reported, DVDs are now on sale in Rangoon of film of the cyclone and there have been examples - particularly on Global Voices and the BBC of people trying to get the stories out. But due to the sheer devastation there has been less.
I can't finish this post however without mentioning Jay73's verdict
"I have only read Glenda's profile and the headline of this article so all I know at the moment is that she specialises in crap titles for things and looking scarily intense in photographs."
Hahahaha.  Too true (although I didn't write the headline in this case). The sad thing is, as anyone who's met me knows, I look scarily intense in real life as well.

Monday, May 19, 2008

More Burma/China thoughts

Kim Fletcher on the difficulties of reporting the two disasters in Media Guardian and Jeff Jarvis on how Twitter broke the news of the Chinese earthquake. Plus - something I'd missed - a BBC apology for using old tsunami footage.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Merlin's wizardry? Burma and the new journalism
I've just watched the most extraordinary edition of the Ten O'Clock News tonight for two reasons. First of a 20 minute bulletin 7 minutes was given over to both Burma and China; this, so many days on is a significant percentage of a bulletin; agencies have worked hard to keep both in the news. Both stories defy the usual rules of disaster reporting; for a domestic audience like the UK these are faraway countries (although there is a significant Chinese diaspora here, and a historical legacy with Burma). Even so, for a third of a bulletin to be devoted to disasters that happened more than a week ago is unusual.
Second one or other of them should be in the news; not both. Jonathan Benthall in Disasters, Relief and the Media quoted a French newscaster as calling it the "funnel" effect - that emotion can only be channeled one way at one time. I call it the Mother Teresa Death syndrome; the nun who toiled in Calcutta could have expected huge swathes of news print dedicated to her achievements; nstead because she died on the eve of Diana Princess of Wales's funeral, the queen of nuns was elbowed out by the queen of hearts.
However, both have survived. Part is luck: there are no other running foreign stories. Part is the interesting problems both throw up: the debate over whether Burma should be forced to accept aid on one side versus China's 'openness' compared to previous occasions. Part is hard work by the aid agencies to ensure the story stays in the public domain.
In the meantime the most vivid exposition of this is the lead story on the Ten tonight; using pictures from Labutta shot by the aid agency Merlin to give an idea of the devastation in the delta. This is the original  2'47 package from Jonathan Pearce of Merlin from which these pictures are taken is there.  
I have written in the past about the blurring of lines between aid agencies and journalists and chaired a debate about this at the Red Cross's Dispatches from Disaster Zones. Let me begin by saying that the BBC in this case flagged up in the cue these were Merlin's pictures, astoned them and then in the script reiterated the fact these were aid agencies pictures. No one can fault them there.
What was interesting was that the majority of the package (I'll have to watch it again to get timings) narrated by the BBC's Andrew Harding was Merlin's pictures with what appeared to be a piece to camera by Jonathan Pearce (again clearly astoned) which I haven't seen before. Again I would have to check but in the original package Pearce is in an edit suite, whereas in the BBC package they use shots of him in the field. There is also an interview with Dr Sean Keogh (I presume by Pearce) in the Ten package. There was also what appeared to be  shots of Mark Malloch Brown; whether that was Reuters/agency pix or also done by Merlin (I'm presuming the former, as that was not astoned; the words appear to be from the Andrew Marr interview)
I'd like to watch it again before coming to firm conclusions - as I say given the hard time I've given broadcasters in the past for not labelling footage correctly, the BBC could hardly have mentioned Merlin more. (I'm not sure where Harding was, but scripting to news agency pictures is common practice) But it's interesting to see how an aid agency can make the lead item of the Ten and the quality of broadcast filming they are now producing. Technology is finally meaning that aid agencies have the ability to do what they have wanted to do for some times.