Chennai (Madras), the erstwhile hub of British Empire, was inundated with flood water and threatened the life of about five million people in December. But the international media failed to gauge the impact of the disaster. Gayathri Kanaga Sundaram explores the truth about why the international media did not care for the Chennai Floods ?
It was the disaster that shook India to the core. Government ministers, celebrities and the ordinary people suddenly were put in a situation in which they would whatever they could to help themselves and others survive.
For those who don’t know about what happened, the city of Chennai in South India, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, was part of one of the biggest floods ever recorded in India with people due to one of the worst monsoon seasons in history. A city that is usually dry, suddenly went underwater, with over 300 people reported dead.
More than that, more newsworthy than the tragedy itself, was the amazing reaction of the people after the event. The people of Chennai did incredible actions to help each other out, offering their houses for those in need, helping pregnant women reach hospital, getting lost children back to their parents by boat, and offering food and supplies to each other.
The news was widespread on social media, from it trending on Facebook and Twitter, and eventually reached the national media in India, with endless reports with reporters on boats, travelling through the drowned city.
Despite this all going on at once, the story didn’t get much of a look in from international media, with all but one or two articles on BBC and CNN. So the big question that people have been asking after the city went back to normal, was why? Why was there not more attention about this story? Why weren’t reporters out there, experiencing what people were going through?
The main reason, while news main purpose is to inform, news media outlets have to bear in mind that they have to select news based on their audience, whatever that might be. With stations such as the BBC and CNN, while they try their best to cover news from all around the world, their main focus is what news will be important to the majority who live in England, or those who live in America.
One reason could be bad timing. Unfortunately around the time before the Chennai Floods, the Paris attacks happened. This meant the entire of the western world was entirely focused on the power and how to deal with ISIS. The aftermath of this was the vote on Syria. In this case, this story was of far more importance as it could affect them, therefore became the main focus story, which mean the disaster of Chennai had to be put behind.
The other reason it could have been put aside is because of geographical bias, and this is a problem with both national and international media outlets. Once the news of the tragedy circulated, so did a viral video from Rajdeep Sardesai from India Today, complaining about how we should be covering news past Delhi, past the Vindyas. We are under careful instruction by others to reach the audience, rather than sharing the news that is there and ongoing. Therefore we forget any of the other stories that are not in our target market.
Journalists unfortunately these days have to think about what news will reach the target audience, rather than informing the news generally.
Should it have received better coverage? Absolutely. However, due to the pressures of the current news media outlets nowadays, this disaster had to be put on the side.