Last updated: June 19, 2019
Topic: ArtRadio
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2004 – Indian Ocean tsunamiThe 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which had a magnitude of 9.3, triggered a series of lethal tsunamis on December 26, 2004 that killed approximately 230,000 people. The disaster was extremely huge in terms of geographical magnitude as well; the areas affected by the tsunami ranged from the immediate vicinity of the quake in Indonesia, Thailand and the north-western coast of Malaysia to thousands of kilometers away in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and even as far as Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania in eastern Africa. Measured in lives lost, this is one of the ten worst earthquakes in recorded history, as well as the single worst tsunami in history.

I decided to start the narration of the aftermath events from my impressions I had after getting the massive news through all the channels, newspapers, radio and internet research during one year after the tsunami occurred.The story of the Western Mass MediaIt was the biggest tragedy in the world, it took more than 200.000 lives, most of which from Indonesia and Sri Lanka. A lot of foreigners who spent their Christmas holidays were affected by the disaster.

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Many European families were lost, a lot of children were orphaned and those tourists who survived were in terrible psychological condition. Local victims of the tsunami were also featured in the   western Mass Media. Huge amount of humanitarian aid was dispatched to the affected regions and the delivery, as well as emergency assistance was professionally and fairly organized by a number of international humanitarian organizations; UN, Red Cross, Oxfam, WHO, Save the Children, etc.There was a huge danger that the tsunami will strike again, the tsunami was followed by serious shortage of food, water, shelter, as well as a number of infectious diseases which could turn into a massive epidemics. And the last, the Indonesian Government and the arming groups in Aceh were hindering the delivery of the humanitarian aid to those who needed them.These were the messages that prevailed in the western Mass Media.

And this is what the western audience is aware of.During the research I came over several very interesting articles and studies that revealed some of the “hidden stories” of the post-tsunami reality and criticized western news agencies, as well as the humanitarian aid agencies. Thus, I had to enlarge the scope of my research and compare three parties; western Mass Media, western criticism and Asia- Pacific Mass Media.Criticism and Untold StoriesTime after time the stories of the western part have varied from each other, so that the headlines of popular dailies would contradict to each other leaving the reader in confusion; which one is right?An article on Choire Sicha, www., dated December 31, 2004 says; “Perhaps some of this morning’s front page headlines are true” and brings 21 dailies with contradicting headlines following one another.The rhetorical questions of the writer accompany the clippings from the dailies without any comments:“Is relief “pouring” in? “Trickling” in? Bound up in “red tape”? Is it a “tidal wave” of assistance? Is it “building”? Do survivors “fight for aid amid corpses”? Do “delays hinder relief”? Is this aid “ramping up”? Is it arriving “slowly”? “Expanding”? “Moving ahead”? And, finally, is the U.S.

military leading the relief mission? Are rich nations one-upping each other over aid? Do Canadian donations “amaze”?Do nations struggle? Is there a coalition of compassion? Does the entire world pledge help?”The Inter Press Service News Agency reported that multi-ethnic misbalance is being created in Sri Lanka on 22 March, 2006. Sri Lankan human rights lawyer Nimalka Fernando said:“The situation after the tsunami in a post-conflict Sri Lanka has further exacerbated the discrimination against the Muslim and Tamil communities. The relief and rehabilitation activities in the south (where the Buddhist majority and Christian minority are concentrated) received much attention, while the north and east received only a trickle.

The president’s constituency has 500 houses constructed more than was required after the tsunami, while in the north and east hundreds are still living in temporary shelters.”Whereas, a CNN report, posted on December 29, 2004, said that aid was not accessible to the mentioned regions also because the regions were controlled by “…the Tamil Tigers separatist group.” Adding that“… Gordon-Gibson [Red Cross Asia representative ] said he was optimistic the Sri Lankan government would spread the relief fairly between Tamil and non-Tamil regions despite ongoing tensions.”From one hand, for me it was very easy to conduct the research; because of the massive information available on the 2004 tsunami subject.

From the other hand; it was very difficult to achieve my main objective; to place the three parties aside and make the analysis. The reason is that the approaches of the sides are completely different from one another.Another news report by Shimali Senanayake, The New York Times, says:“Several humanitarian agencies said that they had been compelled to abandon their efforts amid the worst outbreak of fighting since a 2002 cease-fire between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.”Although, it was reported by the Asian mass media that the tensions were escalated because the aid was not distributed fairly and left aside the Talims.A story by Linda Mylle, Inside Indonesia, printed on 22 July, 2005, was a colourful depiction of lack of cultural sensitivity from the side of the humanitarian aid providers in Aceh, entitled “After the Tsunami, the Free for All. International agencies need to take the time to understand local groups.” The title is, indeed, a modest referral of what the whole story tells. “You’d think the tsunami hit the UN and not Acehnese NGOs,” was the comment that a volunteer after “a particularly frenetic day witnessing local and international NGOs at work.

A very critical paper was released by Dr. Scott Downman which was presented to the Journalism Education Conference, Griffith University on 29 November-2 2 December, 2005. It strogly criticized the Western Mass Media for placing an extraordinary number of reporters and crew to cover the subject thus hindering the relief work on the field. It brings evidences on how more than 200 crew in one place impacted the critical resources. It highlights the low level of preparedness of the crews to the emergency situations and lack of experience in covering trauma and human tragedy.

The paper strongly criticized also the sensationalized approach of the western media which, to some extent, spread real panic in Aceh commenting on epidemics and a second tsunami. The limited staff of the local daily Serambi newspaper, almost all of the 80 staff of which was wiped away by the Tsunami, had to return to work in order to release true facts about the disaster and bring the affected population out of the panic they were driven into after the exaggerated news flow.“Journalists said the result was that many news crews ‘freeloaded’ of aid agencies or anyone they could for food and media equipment.  Perhaps one of the more alarming consequences was that ill-prepared media crews sought to scrounge resources from the devastated offices of the Serambi newspaper, which lost 51 of its staff in the disaster (Simon 2005).  The newspaper was scrambling to resume publication in an effort to correct misreporting and sensationalism by foreign media. Serambi journalist Nurdin Hasan says the paper was published just four days after the tsunami to prevent cycles of misinformation from causing panic among the survivors.

He says that as a consequence of news reports from outsiders, many people fled Aceh fearing they would die from cholera or the area would be hit by another tsunami.  Hasan adds:The paper attacked the issues and published reports with accurate information to help readers find strength in the midst of so much chaos and fear.  We interviewed experts with UN agencies and the people came back (Koch 2005).”ConclusionThe media response to the Tsunami was extraordinary. Some critics state that the Christmas time, which is generally poor in news, gave an artificial push to all the agencies and hundreds of crews landed the affected regions without any proper preparation, knowledge on how to act in that situation, and even without proper equipment.

A great part of them didn’t know the local languages and didn’t come with translators. The Save the Children representative had complained that the reporters needed only stereotyped stories, the ones that would be sold well. E.

g., children who lost both parents, the others would not interest them as victims. The war of the Asia Pacific Mass Media over the fair representation of the facts and human tragedy was also justified. Very often we witness stereotyped stories and non-ethical approach to the personal tragedy.

Tsunami also served as a good lesson to open serious debates on ethical codes of Mass media and the NGOs.The lack of cultural sensitivity was the main pitfall among the Mass Media which led to conflicts between the two shores of the Mass Media; western and eastern.It should be mentioned that when we compare the Asia Pacific news services and the Western, the first do not compete in terms of accessibility.A 27 paged document lists the Asian Pacific Media. While searching the agencies I found out that they were mainly in Chinese, Thai, Korean or Japanese, they are not always in English and most of them are too localized to be interesting to the international audience.Bibliography1. Tsunami, Wikipedia, [Online].

Available: [24 October 2006 ]2.

“Perhaps some of this morning’s front page headlines are true” 2004, Choire Sicha, [Online]. Available: http://www.choiresicha.

com/archives/000550.html [24 October 2006 ]3. Capdevila Gustavo 2006, HUMAN RIGHTS: No Multi-Ethnic Balance in Sri Lanka, Says Expert: Inter Press Service News Agency: [Online]. Available: [24 October 2006 ]4. Sri Lanka: Aid slow to get through 2004: CNN [Online].

Available:  [24 October 2006 ];5. Shimali Senanayake 2006, Violence stymies tsunami relief: The New York Times [Online].

Available: [24 October 2006 ];6. Asia-Pacific: Asia-Pacific Media, Business Wire;7. Tsunami Media Evaluation Report 2004-2005: UNICEF;8. Graham Wood 2005, Tsunami media convergence: not a fair guiding principle for aid: The Christian Science Monitor [Online].


html [24 October 2006 ];9. Dr Scott Downman 2004-2005, Swamped: The tsunami media coverage in Banda Aceh – When help is not helpful: Griffith University;10. Linda Mylle 2005, After the tsunami, the free for all: International agencies need to take the time to understand local groups: Inside Indonesia [Online]. Available: [24 October 2006 ];;;;;;;