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On media, trauma and the Christchurch earthquake

Discussion about the rights and wrongs of media coverage of the Christchurch earthquake is already underway.

See:
Jonathan Green
at The Drum on the media’s exploitation of victims and intrusion into suffering
David Penberthy at The Punch offers another perspective
…and there is more critique from ANU academic and blogger Jonathan Powles and Mr Denmore at The Failed Estate blog (and presumably there is more at plenty of other places as well).

If you haven’t already seen it, this article by Christchurch journalist Vicki Anderson, which provides a deeply moving and personal account of the earthquake and its immediate aftermath, adds another dimension to such discussions.

Anderson, a music critic at The Press newspaper, wrote the piece by a miner’s headlamp after a terrifying day, during which she spent hours not knowing if her children and partner were alive. She wrote amidst the fear and adrenalin charges of aftershocks.

She also raised concerns about the conduct of her journalistic colleagues, writing:

On the news stupid journalists asked people freed from death’s clutches “how they were feeling” and seemed more interested in having an accurate body count than sensitively and respectfully telling the stories of those affected by what may well be New Zealand’s darkest and most destructive minute.… New Zealand, we need you to have our back on this one. We don’t need insensitive journalism and voyeuristic pictures of our dead.

As Anderson wrote, tears were rolling down her face. They were rolling down my face too, as I read all of her 2300 words out loud to my husband.

At times like this, it is important that stories like these are told, whether by journalists or others. They are about so much more than voyeurism. They help remind us of our common humanity, and to give the rest of us some small inkling of what traumas like these mean for those affected.

Vicki Anderson wrote: “Life is fragile. I stood on the edge of the abyss and peered into the darkness today.”

For many people who have been affected by the unrelenting tide of disasters in recent months – cyclones, floods and fires – as well as the other sort of disasters that occur every day – the loss of a child to an illness, or a friend to a car accident, and so on – Anderson’s story will hold a particular resonance and meaning.

Meanwhile, the NZ Ministry of Health has released an information sheet giving families advice about how the trauma might affect them in the short, medium and longer term, and what they might find helpful for their recovery. It says:

People are usually surprised by how much a crisis or trauma affects them. It frequently changes the way they think, their values, habits, feelings and behaviour. It influences most aspects of their life. Usually people do not expect their families to be affected as much as they are, but a major event or crisis in the life of one member always influences the family. People usually underestimate the time it takes to recover from a crisis or trauma. Although it is made up of individuals, a family is a unit. What changes one member, changes the others. This also means there is a lot that family members can do to help each other in a time of crisis.

This resource may also be useful for readers beyond Christhchurch. Interestingly, it is adapted from a Queensland Health fact sheet on psychosocial disaster management.

***

Update:

Lyndal Curtis makes a strong rejoinder at The Drum to a previous piece by the site’s editor, Jonathan Green: the media has important and legitimates roles to play in reporting on disasters, she says.

Comments 7

  1. Great post Melissa. I found Vicki’s article deeply moving and found it affected me far more than the hundreds of photos and footage I’ve seen of injured, dead and mourning people in the last few days.

    It doesn’t have to be graphic or intrusive to tell the story.

  2. lgcollard says:

    I too read Vicki’s article this morning through a veil of tears.

    I blogged about the initial TV coverage of the earthquake. I felt squeamish about it. Not in a ‘if-I-see-blood-I’ll-pass-out’ kind of way, but like it was somehow just wrong. I had no problem with the reporting, but felt the raw unedited footage that was shown was not necessary.

    Thanks to Melissa for inviting me to post the link here. http://bit.ly/e5S7JX

  3. SiobhanA says:

    I was fairly disgusted with the pathetic attempts of The Age and HS to milk the very worst out of the disaster, particularly with the pictures of the Manning family grieving immediately after finding out their mother was dead. Why do people think this is acceptable imagery to splash on the front page? It gave the public absolutely no information and was just sordid sensationalism. And I don’t think the Mannings will appreciate knowing that the image of their grief has now been posted thousands of times on the internet, that lock-box of regrettably revealed digital information.

    Pathetic effort on the part of the mainstream media outlets to get the most morbid photos they could and the most disastrous headlines they could manage. How about more actual reporting?

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Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences
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