Evidence is mounting that media headlines are hurting humanitarian relief efforts in Pakistan. While there are several factors that are having a negative impact on humanitarian giving, media coverage of the flood – or lack thereof – is one obstacle that could be easily overcome.
According to a story on NPR’s All Things Considered last week,
The Project for Excellence in Journalism said there was 10 times as much U.S. news coverage of the earthquake in Haiti as of the floods in Pakistan.
Buzard said without a stream of stories and vivid images playing over and over on cable TV, public awareness of a disaster is low and donations are correspondingly weak.
Despite George Clooney talking about the floods and the need for humanitarian relief donations at this year’s Emmy Awards and Public Service Announcements by other celebrities such as Alyssa Milano and Angelina Jolie, mass media coverage of the disaster continues to be marginal.
Recently, the Boston Globe featured an op-ed by Sen. John Kerry calling for Americans to do more to support humanitarian relief in Pakistan. While it is important that such calls-to-action appear in as many places as possible, it is disappointing that his column appeared in a regional newspaper, and not an agenda-setting media outlet like the New York Times.
The Times, in fact, has paid relatively little attention to the floods in comparison to other aspects of Pakistan. Recent Times headlines focus far more on issues of terrorism and security than disaster relief and economic recovery for the devastated nation:
- Explosion at Shiite Protest Kills at Least 40 in Pakistan
- Attack on Pakistani Muslim Shiites Kill 43
- In Lahore, Mourning for Victims of Attacks
- U.S. Adds Legal Pressure on Pakistani Taliban
- Suicide Bombers in Pakistan Kill Dozens of Shiites
- Pakistani Taliban Hint at Attacks Against Foreign Aid Workers
- China’s Discreet Hold on Pakistan’s Northern Borderlands
- Pakistanis Tell of Motive in Taliban Leader’s Arrest
- Pakistan Gets I.M.F. Relief, Tightens Security
- Pakistanis Scramble to Escape Floods
- Evacuations Continue in Southern Pakistan
- Pakistan Flood Sets Back Infrastructure by Years
- 800,000 Pakistanis Cut Off From Road
Pakistan’s Ambassador, Husain Haqqani, mentioned during an interview with MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan that, “we haven’t seen any of your major television personalities land in Pakistan doing wall-to-wall coverage yet.” Patrick Rooney, Executive Director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, said on PBS News Hour last night that, “…there has not been as much media coverage [as previous disasters]. And one of the things we’ve seen in other disasters is the greater the media coverage, the greater the disaster relief giving.”
With all of these voices pointing out that inattention to the floods in agenda setting publications like The New York Times is having a negative impact on humanitarian relief – why does this inattention persist?
While it is certainly important that the Times and other news outlets report about the terrorist groups that are plaguing Pakistan, natural disasters such as Pakistan’s present flooding are no less vital to national security – both Pakistan’s and our own.