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