Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Australian media fiddles while Pakistan drowns


Australia is still awaiting the final results of our recent federal elections, which resulted in a hung parliament, the first time this has happened since the Second World War.

We were on the eve of the election campaign when news of the devastating floods in Pakistan gripped the world. The inability of the Australian media to sufficiently highlight the horror of the floods, huger than the 2004 tsunami and the Haitian earthquake combined, was appalling. I’m no news junkie but wherever I watched or listened, rarely if ever did a story about the floods headline a news bulletin, although it usually featured somewhere.

The numbers were difficult to comprehend: initially 14 million said to be displaced, with that number now at 20 million, almost the population of Australia.

This disaster is the future writ large, the massive effects of global warming evident in our lifetimes. It’s not just a matter of short-term relief: the entire infrastructure of the country will have to be rebuilt. Given the unprecedented scale of the tragedy, a national fundraising campaign should have been ubiquitous on all Australian media from day one, but this wasn’t the case.

Instead, an increasingly irrelevant media bored a population pissed off with the governing ALP for knifing a first-term PM and disgusted with the inability of the major parties to produce policies aimed at anyone but the most ignorant swinging voters. The result has been a hung parliament with independents demanding parliamentary and other reforms.

It was both heartening and sickening when, the election safely over, the ABC finally got around to holding a radiothon for Pakistani flood victims in conjunction with UNICEF's fundraising appeal – how many more lives could have been saved if they’d held it right from the start?

The response was overwhelming. UNICEF was hoping for $1 million, but in seeming record time $3 million had been raised. It appeared that Australians had been unsure of how to respond to the disaster and were just waiting for some guidance. Better late than never, but this enormous tragedy hasn’t magically disappeared – sustained and relentless media attention is still needed.

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