Is the Haiti earthquake media coverage impeding rescue crews and supplies?

Originally published in MedPage Today

by Bjoern Kils

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s Porte-au-Prince at 4:53pm on January 12, 2010.

Just 20 hours later, CNN’s Anderson Cooper was updating the AC360 blog from the Dominican Republic, while making his way to an airfield to board a United Nations helicopter to take him and his crew into Haiti.

Is the Haiti earthquake media coverage impeding rescue crews and supplies?While the media plays a central role in disseminating information to the masses — especially during crisis — I was wondering why TV crews were being shuttled towards the epicenter instead of packing those UN choppers with search and rescue crews, doctors, and supplies.

There are many reports of emergency response teams ready to deploy but without a way to the island — the bottleneck being the damaged Port-au-Prince Airport — and many planes had to circle for hours waiting for clearance to land. In some cases they had to be diverted or turned around.

One particularly disturbing report was the live broadcast of the rescue attempt of an 11-year-old girl trapped beneath a pile of rubble. A group of men desperately tried to dig her out, while CNN’s Ivan Watson was standing right among them on that same pile doing a play-by-play of their efforts.

I do wonder if this type of reporting is really necessary or if perhaps two more arms — or four or six more, depending on the number in Watson’s crew — could have made a difference in freeing her.

Sure — any disaster is a media event and it is important to show the world what is going on. Direct reports from the affected areas are what motivates people to make much needed donations.

And while I may disagree with a certain style of reporting, I believe that the cameras do have their place on the ground because, to quote author, educator, and environmentalist Bill McKibben: “Theoretical is the word that people in power use to dismiss anything for which pictures do not exist.”

Bjoern Kils blogs at In Other Words, the MedPage Today staff blog.

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