Pakistan floods affect over 14 million, meet the British reacting with bigotry

Pakistan’s worst flooding in its history has now affected more than 14 million people and left at least 1,600 dead.
Image: REUTERS/Adrees Latif, courtesy of alertnet.org @ Flickr: Oxfam

The British public has so far donated £10.5m to help the victims of Pakistan floods. Hard-hitting and emotive media reports have galvanised viewers to donate generously, as UK charities plead with the international community for support.

Yet this is only one side of the story.

If you find yourself stumbling into a Sky News comments board – which unfortunately I did while rubbing my eyes struck-dumb with disbelief – then like me you’ll find compassion and empathy replaced with outright racism and bigotry. In reaction to the aid being given to Pakistan by the UK government, comments began with “Enough is enough!!!” and “I’m not a racist, but…” (a phrase which is a particular favourite of mine).

Here are some examples of genuine comments:

  • “Use your own money Pakistan – stop scrounging.”  – Brought to you by the aptly titled Voice of Sanity
  • “I’m sick to death of our country handing money out at the drop of a hat.”
  • “One day their burning our flag the next they are screaming for aid and food. Why are people giving money to these people, we need it here!”
  • “Sorry but wouldn’t give them a penny, at least it may slow the cross border Taliban attacks on out brave soldiers”

…And so it goes on. These comments would be horrifying, if they weren’t so commonplace.  A quick squint at numerous comment boards and you’ll find that similar racism, bigotry, misunderstandings and plain stupidity is rife.

A man evacuates his children through waist-deep waters: It’s estimated that 6 million children – that’s almost double the entire population of Wales/New Zealand – will contract severe illnesses due to the floods
Image: REUTERS/Adrees Latif, courtesy of alertnet.org @ Flickr: Oxfam

***

So who do you blame, the readers or the media?

Poor quality and inaccuracy does plague the British media’s reporting of international news. Although this example from Sky is a straight news report, their coverage of international news has been severely criticised in the past.

With typical witticisms Charlie Brooker‘s Newswipe (below) highlighted the appalling quality of certain reporting of the Haiti earthquake earlier this year.

Video: xthemusic
***

In June I interviewed journalist John Owen, founding member of the International News Safety Institute,  on the current problems facing international news coverage. He said:

“The fact that news agencies are closing their foreign bureaus is one of the most dramatic issues that is happening in the industry.”

Owen is concerned that newsgroups no longer encourage reporters to go to foreign countries, to live in them and to understand the language and the culture. This means that when journalists report crises they don’t have any real grasp of the background. “All you get now is quick, parachute-in and parachute-out, crisis reporting”, he said. “It really is a great lose.”

The media’s self-fulfilling prophecy

Owen recognised that newsgroups are driven, in a very difficult time financially, by the need to produce popular material, stating that stories about celebrities for example will get a lot more interest than the difficulties in Sri Lanka. Yet he added:

“It’s a bit of a chicken or egg situation, and a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are not going to make people interested in complicated parts of the world unless you have a really good storyteller who is given the opportunity to find characters, and to find ways of connecting their lives to your country and your culture.”

The fact that many media groups only cover international news when there’s a crisis means that both their journalists and readers are unable to relate to the situation. Owen said:

“If it has some connection to their own country, like 9/11 or the London bombings or a big oil spill, then people will be interested because it affects them – if it’s more abstract then they won’t.”

Yet Owen believes that not all media agencies are the same. “I’ve been working for the last four months with Al Jazeera“, he said, “and one of the things that is most impressive is that they have reporters all over the world. So you get a textured, fully rounded reporting that you’re just not getting from other news agencies, with maybe the exception of the BBC.”

As the media industry’s purse strings continue to tighten and the public becomes even more disengaged with foreign affairs, there is the risk that Britain will simply turn off to world news.

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An environmental journalist and communications trainer, Bethan specialises in nature conservation and social justice

Posted in Media
5 comments on “Pakistan floods affect over 14 million, meet the British reacting with bigotry
  1. Dave says:

    “I’m sick to death of our country handing money out at the drop of a hat.”

    Could you explain the bigotry in this comment please, because I cannot see it.

    At least shes/he being honest about their feelings, rather than using a disaster in pakistan to broadcast what a lovely little liberal you are, and how much you care.

    Dont get upset that people are not as enlightened as you, get upset because lots pf pakistanis are suffering

  2. abdul abulbul emir says:

    Mrs A says:

    Is this what they call compassion fatigue Abdul ?
    Perhaps one should call it globalisation fatigue.

    After all the ice age descended Brits are going through their own hard times and haven’t got any more to give what with saving the world from the Nazi beast and giving alms to every Tom Dick or Mohammed out there.

    Even Madonna Bob Geldoff Tony B Liar and all these other stinking rich types can’t whip up enough enthusiasm.

    Says it all……

  3. bethan john says:

    @Dave
    The problem I have with the comment is that it’s an ideological argument rather than an objection to government policy; our economic situation would not improve if we stopped giving aid to other countries as it such a small amount of the government budget, so I find the argument nonsensical.

    I have no doubt that “he/she is being honest with their feelings”, and I don’t suggest otherwise. You infer that because I am expressing liberal views I’m projecting something that is false, a conclusion that I fail to understand.

    I don’t believe that simply blogging about the suffering in Pakistan would add anything to the mainstream media’s portrayal of what’s happening, so instead I set out to debate the wider issue of the media’s coverage of international news and in essence our ability to understand and relate to others.

  4. Charlotte Cox says:

    Loving your work my dear. The fact that anyone could make such ill-informed comments when so many innocent people are suffering is inexcusable And you are a lovely little liberal, which is much better than being a facist! Showing that you care can only be a good thing!

    X

    • bethan john says:

      @charlotte I’m glad you see me as slightly better than a fascist!
      I do understand @Dave’s objection to a certain extent. Citing that particular comment didn’t strengthen my argument and there were much worse comments I could have chosen. But I included it because it’s an opinion often expressed and one I object to, not just because I disagree with that self-protectionist world view, but because it’s illogical.
      The point I think @Dave’s making is that if you firmly believe that giving aid impacts our economic situation you maybe wrong, but your not innately bigoted.

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