The coverage, as they say, is ongoing.
No one doubts for a moment that the Christchurch earthquake is a saddening, confronting thing, and that clearly it is a story that will occupy a lot of our attention.
Story. I just said it, instinctively framing these events — this rolling tragedy — as a piece of journalistic raw material. Quite a story.
The quake aftermath has been wall to wall on Australian TV for nigh on 24 hours now and looks like shouldering normal programming aside for a while yet.
Key network anchors and reporters were en route to New Zealand within hours … papers and websites can’t get enough of the words and pictures. Maybe we should be honest about the way in which our media treats events of this type, maybe we should ask whether coverage like this in a nation once removed from the scene of devastation, can in any way be constructive. And if it’s not constructive, can it be anything but voyeuristic? Are the networks, the papers, the websites milking our collective fascination and turning it inevitably to profit, for no good end?
Maybe that’s a trifle harsh, but so much resource is thrown at something like the Christchurch quake, we are confronted by so much detail that the question demands asking.
The media presents itself as being in some way empathetic. They are there, they are broadcasting, because they care, because somehow bringing the images into our homes, over here across so much water, can … well, what?
Surely anyone with a true need for information can access it through official channels? Appeals for donations are hardly a key feature of the current rolling cover. It follows then that everything else is a sideshow staged purely for amusement.
The relationship between media and victims is so often plainly exploitative. Look no further than this afternoon’s News Limited websites, the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph. Both featured screen-wide images of a family, a father and two children, moments after they had been told there was no hope that their mother could have survived the crushing impact of the quake.
All three are caught by the camera in a frozen spasm of grief. It is torture to see. It is an extraordinary intrusion … a stolen moment of agony that has nothing to do with any of us. The news agencies that flog the image have nothing to offer these people in return. No empathy, no support, merely a momentary exploitation of sorrow in the hope the image might arrest the passing internet eye and draw traffic. Grotesque.
In these situations the media trade on the rather generous assumption on our part that they must be there because they care, that in being there they bring the tragedy home to all of us and therefore, somehow, make a difference. We ought to challenge that. Or at least question it.
Here’s another case in point. This morning Fairfax papers published bold paper-wide images of a man pulled from the Christchurch wreckage. Dirt smeared. Bloodied. But alive. The paper does not come to these things through some disengaged, mechanical process. People are involved: shooting the image, moving on.
The picture was of one Shane Tomlin. His image raced round the world … a sudden visual shorthand for disaster, tragedy and loss.
And then he vanished. His family — as of this afternoon — can find neither hide nor hair of him.
Used, you might say, and forgotten. Because that’s the sad truth in these things: that the media does not empathise. The media is not there to help. The media does not feel your pain.