Hurricanes and the Media: Yes, We Have a Choice

September 10th, 2017

Hurricane Irma (and her boyfriend, following along behind, José) both decided not to bother with Jamaica, for which we are thankful. While the north coast had blue skies and sunshine however, down in Kingston we have had heavy showers, stopping and starting, and thunder grumbling away. A storm on Friday has sent our dogs into a permanent state of fear. However, we are indeed thankful.

I have noticed something about Jamaicans and media coverage, however. Why, they asked, do we hear nothing but news about the United States, and when and if the hurricane is going to hit its coastline – but so little about the Caribbean islands that have suffered terribly? Why does nobody report on Cuba (well, this isn’t even true, as one or two U.S. media houses in fact did report from there)?

We have seen so many images like this... wading through water. Cubans wade through a flooded street in Havana on Sunday. (Yamil Lage / AFP/Getty Images)

We have seen so many images like this… wading through water. Cubans wade through a flooded street in Havana on Sunday. (Yamil Lage / AFP/Getty Images)

Well dears – perhaps that is because you watch U.S. cable television and hardly veer away from CNN for more than a few minutes. On social media, you also plug into U.S. (or perhaps British) media. I would suggest one thing: if something is happening in the Caribbean, why not turn to Caribbean media? When Irma tore into little Barbuda, I found two Antiguan news sites providing up to date video and news. Facebook and Twitter are very good for this. You just need to do a search. When Irma decided to visit the Turks and Caicos Islands, I found a good source of news there, too. That’s what Google searches are for. Media houses like Al Jazeera report a great deal on what’s happening in developing countries; and different groups and organisations, especially relief organisations and regional groups, will give you a different perspective.

A home is surrounded by debris brought in by Hurricane Irma in Nagua, Dominican Republic, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Irma flooded parts of the Dominican Republic when it roared by Thursday, just off the northern coast of the island it shares with Haiti. (AP Photo/Tatiana Fernandez)

A home is surrounded by debris brought in by Hurricane Irma in Nagua, Dominican Republic, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Irma flooded parts of the Dominican Republic when it roared by Thursday, just off the northern coast of the island it shares with Haiti. (AP Photo/Tatiana Fernandez)

That’s the problem with media, I guess. At times like these, we sit and absorb whatever is in front of us. This is a concern I have with television news, in general. It washes over one, mindlessly. Then suddenly we shift our position on the couch, and posit this burning question: “Am I really upset about the rescue of a cat in a small town in the Florida Keys? Perhaps I should be, but…”

Time to switch channels, I suggest. Or, better still, go out and look for news that you can really “relate to.” Google is your friend; so are hashtags, and Facebook searches. If we are looking for news about people, and not just general destruction, there are images and videos out there of Cubans walking with floodwaters up to their chests in Havana that might well be more captivating. Or smiling Barbudans in lifejackets, being evacuated by boat to their sister island of Antigua; or even policemen chasing looters from a supermarket in St. Martin.

Oh, our Caribbean brothers and sisters!

However, you cannot blame CNN. They know who their audience are, and it’s not Jamaicans. Surely it’s no surprise that they are reaching out to their American audience. Their American audience needs and wants to know where the shelters are, who to call for help, whether they should evacuate certain areas, which cities are being affected by the storm. We Jamaicans actually do not need this kind of information. It’s as simple as that!

Perhaps, for some Jamaicans, watching CNN for hours at a time gives one something to complain about. The 24/7 news cycle and the constant need for “breaking news” (which was breaking perhaps three or four hours ago) makes my head spin. It can be quite mesmerising, especially when there is any kind of disaster happening. One gets sucked in. One is searching for a bit more instant gratification. More, more!

Yes, what media one taps into – whether radio, television or social media – is actually a personal choice. Go on, be brave! You have a remote control. Switch from CNN, just once in a while!

Damage in St. Martin. (Photo: Jonathan Falwell/AP)

Damage in St. Martin. (Photo: Jonathan Falwell/AP)

 

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