Published On: Sat, Jan 2nd, 2016

Role of Pakistani media in reporting natural disasters

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Media is the most important source of information on hazards and disasters for people because one of its objectives is to raise awareness and provide information to the masses. This role becomes crucial when it comes to reporting during disasters (Iqbal, Ali 2014).

Pakistan is deemed as a disaster prone nation because of its geographical location. The last decade brought over 4000 natural disasters; the maximum number of natural disasters in the recorded history (khan 2012). Media have always been concerned with events and stories which have human impact. Natural disasters in some sense have the most impact as they destroy a large volume of human and material elements. Media provide the latest information and updates on the catastrophe and ongoing occurrences and in Pakistan, it is also done for rating.

Pakistani reporters are trained to collect data and information about damage, destruction and casualties even when no one is yet clear about the situation in the early stages of the disaster only to boost up the rating. They just try to respond to the increased interest of people for information about natural hazards in the wake of a natural disaster. Pakistani channels often go to their resource files when a disaster accrues and disseminate background information about natural disasters to cover the time and space allocated for disaster news stories. Such background information helps to create awareness among the people about its causes, impacts and aftermaths of a natural disaster.

However, in the past, it was seen that the media remained focused on the single story event (Joseph Scanlon & Alldred, 1982), such as the coverage of 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, when thousands of people died and many got homeless. For that incident, Pakistani media deserves appreciation for covering the natural disaster. When the disastrous earthquake hit the northern areas of the country, the media provided the top coverage to the entire event and appealing to the people for help. At that time media remained to focus on one agenda for several days and almost every channel gave maximum coverage. They aired advertisement free television programs for hours in which they called various artists and celebrities from all over the country who appealed the entire nation for the contribution of funds. Many of the anchors along with their team visited the flood affected areas and highlighted the miserable condition of the people over there (Yasmeen 2013).

During devastating floods of 2010 and 2011, apart from pursuing rating, a vital role was seen by Pakistani media, both print and electronic, in drawing the attention of the world towards the disaster that dislocated millions of people and destroyed standing crops in the affected areas of the country. Not only this, media also performed a good job to motivate the masses to come forward with significant monetary assistance to alleviate the sufferings of the affected people and help in their rehabilitation. Pakistani media played a key role in bringing the nation together on one platform and inspiring them to come to the rescue of their fellow brethren. Many of the anchors along with their team visited the flood affected areas and highlighted the miserable condition of the people over there (Hussain 2012).

Criticism is very important for a country and media also plays a watchdog on the government to show it the right direction. There are many instances when media criticized government to prompt up the rescue and relief works during natural disasters. Same happened when Sindh faced the drought-like situation in Tharparkar, more than 23 children died and the government was busy in Sindh Festivals. The relief program started after media criticism on the Sindh government’s negligence but it was not as useful as it should be.

Recently the earthquake of 2015, which shake approximately all the south Asia, Pakistani media again tried to reach far-flung areas of northern Pakistan and brought real time on the ground situation in the purview of the Government and agencies so that comprehensive plan for rescue and relief could be expedited.

Apart from the imperative role of Pakistani media in reporting natural disasters, there are some flaws which should also be discussed. Pakistani media, almost in every disastrous incident, remained unable to reach in many affected areas and couldn’t display their miseries. Many areas and stories remained unsung. One thing is also noteworthy that whenever a natural disaster hits in Pakistan, the media become charged with new energy and activates with enthusiasm. It becomes foremost agenda of almost every channel to report the disaster and its effects but after few days, they entirely forget it and don’t give single story coverage.  Although objectivity is the core of the news but it has observed that the Pakistani media forgot it many times. Gallup survey has proved it by stating that 53 percent people have the opinion that Pakistani media has lost their objectivity during the coverage of these natural disasters.

It is also reported that currently no code of conduct is available in authorities for reporting the disaster in Pakistan; nevertheless, some training is provided to the reporters for the coverage of disasters. At present, all the news channels including private and national news channels have a self-regulatory code of conduct whereas any code of conduct for natural disaster reporting still not exists in Pakistan (Khursheed, Saleem 2014).

Pakistani media had the invaluable role of reporting the ‘breaking news’ and everyday developments of the disaster but were unable to gather contextually rich information. Media in Pakistan, for example, television and newspapers also tend to favor the dramatic components of the disaster (Ardalan, Linkov, Shubnikov, & Laporte, 2008).  Apart from the conventional role of the media in mitigation and preparedness, Pakistani media is missing an essential nonconventional role. In order to achieve the greater goal of mitigation, media should seek to develop working relationships with scientific and disaster mitigation organizations based on mutual trust and the recognition of differing characteristics, goals, and needs.

Media throughout the world plays a vital role in disaster management by educating the public about disasters; warning of hazards; gathering and transmitting information about affected areas; alerting the government officials, relief organizations and the public to specific needs; and facilitating discussions about disaster preparedness and response, but Pakistani media is failed to meet all these situations which should be work on.

About the Author

Sidra Muntaha

- Sidra Tul Muntaha is a journalist (MA-Mass Communication and M.Phil in Mass Communication) based in Lahore. She is working as an editor at fashion, style and entertainment in the section of the Kooza. She writes fashion and entertainment articles for The Kooza News.

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