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Kiran Kaur Headshot

Hurricane Sandy's News Coverage: A Case of Tasteless Favouritism?

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When it comes to natural disasters, the drama speaks for itself. However, it appears gatekeepers often apply their own prejudice. The coverage of Hurricane Sandy is the perfect example. Last week the hurricane hit Caribbean coasts and while I, like many others, feel it is a huge ongoing tragedy, I do not feel the British press are taking the same stance. It now appears to be a whole different story, literally, given that Hurricane Sandy has now hit the US, in fact it's front page news.

As a result of Hurricane Sandy, the current Caribbean death toll is greater than the current US death toll although news coverage would suggest otherwise. There are already victims yet the focus is on the prospective fatalities - namely in America. Some may argue that the lack of coverage is due to the "small death toll". Death is shocking but in order to hit headlines, it seems the greater the better. Perhaps this is what the British press are expecting from Hurricane Sandy hitting America: a higher death toll = attention-grabbing headlines = greater sales. I believe it's chilling and even ghoulish that the greatest death tolls appear to be the ultimate indication of how big the story is, in specific locations.

According to media researchers Galtung and Ruge's news values, the news often tends to place a heavy focus on elite people and nations. Considering this, can we assume that the US is receiving more coverage because it's essentially more powerful? Is it a case of the more money, the more we see? I appreciate the UK's close relationship to the US but surely its relationship to the Caribbean can't be ruled out too. This brings me to yet another news value: cultural proximity. The UK has a large population who originated from the Caribbean, they understandably may be distraught, upset and in search of answers - answers the British press fail to be providing.

Another argument is that the destruction in the Caribbean was on a smaller scale than what is expected in the US. Yet it was still a disaster, so why wipe it out from the news agenda? Surely accessibility cannot be the sole excuse? I appreciate that the British press may have more correspondents based in the US yet that's hardly justifiable. If a reporter feels it matters, the content should be reported to inform audiences on a national scale, with or without a correspondent's input. This under-reporting of the destruction caused in the Caribbean may suggest it is simply unimportant to the British press.

There are so many other large-scale natural disasters that have parallels in regards to this tasteless favouritism. Take the tsunami. I remember so many headlines that picked out the Westerners. For example, one Daily Mail article stated 'We can't die like this: UK survivors tell of terror killing Tsunami amid fears for 16 missing Britons'. Despite the scale of the disaster, many have questioned whether there would have been less coverage of the 2004 Tsunami if there had not been such a huge amount of Western holidaymakers present. The story was essentially regarded as more important by a number of American and British news organisations because of the Westerners so heavily involved, this helped to drive the coverage. This is arguably the case with Hurricane Sandy as Westerners are at the centre point of where the hurricane is expected to hit next.

At this point it is important to re-emphasise McLurg's Law: 'One dead Briton is worth five dead Frenchmen, 20 dead Egyptians, 500 dead Indians and 1,000 dead Chinese.' This 'rule of journalism' suggested by a legendary British news editor has a clear UK focus but it also suggests that the press favours Westerners above all others - Westerners often defined as British or American.

You only have to search the 'Caribbean' Twitter hashtag to find out more details of the tragic events yet why should people have to turn to Twitter rather than mainstream news programmes? Personally, I think it is a tragedy in itself that the British media have chosen to sideline the impact of the disaster caused. It appears to be a case of 'moving swiftly on' to what is more newsworthy, this coincidentally happens to be in America. These updates via social media are regarded by many as a form of news so, if it's an issue on Twitter, it again raises the debate over why such content has not been featured in more traditional news.

From all of my frustration, I have one vital question: why is it up to the British press to determine whose lives are worthier than others? In fact, so worthy that those who are alive in the US are receiving more coverage as 'victims' than those who have tragically died in the Caribbean.

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