Ranjona Banerji: Good job by media on Phailin

15 Oct,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Cyclone Phailin (I almost put a hashtag before Phailin as a default reaction from too much Twitter!) was obviously an acid test not just for state administrations but also for the media. And for the most part, the media did a very good job. Many brave young reporters stood with their rain gear bringing us the latest from the coastline and inner areas of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh last Saturday, with almost non-stop cyclone coverage.

 

Anchors in the studios filled us in with the meteorological stuff, all in CNN style minus Anderson Cooper and holographic images of course. For some reason, Times Now did not get the memo that Phailin, name chosen this time by Thailand, was pronounced Pey-lin and so continued with the ‘F’ effect.

 

Of the lot of them, CNN-IBN was the least restrained and most professional. Or at least I was jogging along with this impression until at crunch time when the cyclone was supposed to hit they went into a sponsored feature from Siemens. I mention the company name because I remember it. For newscasters and advertisers, there are times when you have to realise that advertising is intrusive and it is better PR to just put it on hold for a while.

 

Ads were the problem across all channels however but that was just regular breaks. And everyone understands that media houses have to make money but perhaps even the advertiser needs to wonder if they want their brand associated with natural disasters as they unfold.

 

Newspapers did what they have to do under such circumstances: gather all the information available and put into perspective for their readers.

 

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As usual, social media was steps ahead of everyone else and many followed American meteorologist Eric Holthaus on Twitter for his predictions. As it turned out, Holthaus may have overestimated the category that Phailin would fall into but his constant tweets, updates and pictures were of great help. (His handle is @EricHolthaus for those interested).

 

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Phailin and its coverage will hopefully nudge the media in India – of all kinds – towards better weather and climate coverage. Newspapers like The Hindu and Hindustan Times are among the few that take it seriously, the rest just give it a cursory nod. Of the TV channels, NDTV has stuck to bringing the weather to its viewers long after its once most recognisable weather girl Anuradha has presumably moved on to other things.

 

It seems amazing that this phenomenon which affects our lives and that of our planet everyday is so ignored. And with all the advances in meteorology and in technology, there is plenty of fascinating information available. As we saw with the Phailin coverage, the Indian Meteorological Department has moved forward in leaps and bounds. Surely, the weather is worthy of a little more attention?

 

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Taking off from that, why have climate change and the environment fallen below the media’s radar? Its effects are there for everyone to see and experience. We need to take the sciences a little more seriously perhaps in the media. I’m not saying stop salivating over Bollywood, cricket and Narendra Modi. I’m just saying widen the frame a bit…

 

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