I can remember when CNN was launched. At the time I was concerned about the advent of a 24 hour news channel. Well, in the first place you know what happens - there isn't quite enough new to say throughout the 24 hours, so reporters and announcers keep saying the same thing in different ways, then they start talking inanities to waste a bit of time, and then editors start repeating earlier reports and items. In the end, it's just a 12 hour news channel with lots of repetition.
But what really worried me was the distortion of actual events such a channel can present. When an editor sends out a reporter, for example, he will always say something like, 'find a family whose house has collapsed in the earthquake and stand in front of them to make your report' or 'stand on the sea wall where the wind's blowing and the sea's breaking over', etc.
So what should we make of these reports and images? They're not untrue. At least, they represent a certain sort of truth. There is a poor family who has lost their house. There is a big storm. But the real story here is that the news channel got a man to the spot.
And it's the same with the present situation in the Philippines. We keep seeing reports from newsmen on the spot saying, 'here we are. Everything's terrible. Look. These people need food and shelter. But there's no aid being distributed.' So we can see there's truth there, but what is the whole truth?
By coincidence, a friend of mine has just returned from one of the Philippine islands affected by the typhoon (they left before the typhoon hit fortunately). To get there though, they had to fly via Hong Kong. That took the best part of a day. The next day they flew to Manila, where they changed to an internal flight to another airport, from which they took a bus to the coast and transferred to a boat to their resort. In other words, it's more than 2 days travelling time to some of the islands affected by scheduled transport. Ironically, direct flights from the EU (which had been banned for various reasons before) were started just a few days before the typhoon reached the islands. I'm not sure whether it's possible to fly direct at the moment, but I imagine a reporter could manage a travel time quicker than the Hong Kong alternative anyway, chartering a helicopter for example. And I suppose we should be impressed that the various news channels have got their people in there already, into the devastation and the confusion. That's what we see. And that's the story really. But does it tell us anything about what's really happening?
As if to underline that, tonight's news had a reporter standing in front of a line of people, 'See these people,' he said. 'They are waiting here in a line as far as you can see. What are you queueing for?' 'Rice.' 'Ah, you must be hungry.' 'Yes.' 'Have you eaten today?' 'Yes.'