3—Children of the tsunami and reporting disasters
Tilly Smith could go back to England after the tsunami, and still had her parents. What about the reality for the children, such as Ruslan, who survived but were orphaned and had to make a life in the wreckage? Carole Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director said: ‘It is hard to imagine the fear, confusion and desperation of children who have seen enormous waves wash away their worlds.’
Share-read the section, ‘Children of the Tsunami’ on pages 38–41 of The Asian Tsunami 2004. How might such a disaster affect different parts of a child’s life?
On the interactive whiteboard project the articles ‘Disaster Strikes!’ and ‘Reporting Disasters’ (. pdf 602 kB) from Get Connected, Issue 10. Share-read ‘Disaster Strikes!’ In pairs, students share any examples they have noticed of the international media focus when a disaster occurs, but how little is heard of the rebuilding and recovery process (perhaps prompt them to think of the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011).
Share-read ‘Reporting Disasters’. Discuss the idea that disasters are more ‘popular’ or newsworthy in the Western media if they have aspects described in this list from World Vision, or correspond to other criteria for newsworthiness, such as this newsworthiness list.
Back in their pairs, students again discuss previously mentioned disaster examples. Have them note their examples and classify them under four categories — local, sudden, in UK or USA, sensational — then share with them with class. Have students work in pairs or small groups to discuss the newsworthy elements of the 2004 Asian tsunami then share their ideas with class.
Share this statement with the class:
‘Note that proximity doesn’t have to mean geographical distance. Stories from countries with which we have a particular bond or similarity have the same effect. For example, Australians would be expected to relate more to a story from a distant Western nation than a story from a much closer Asian country.’
In small groups, students discuss whether they agree or disagree with this. Do they really think Australians relate more closely to stories from far-off Western nations than from our neighbours in Southeast Asia?
Turning the statement on its head and introducing a sense of moral obligation (through modality), students must now argue that ‘Australians should relate more closely to a news story from a much closer Asian country than a distant Western nation’. They individually write down three reasons why this should be the case.
In ‘The lucky survivors’ section of The Asian Tsunami 200 (pages 22–29), the author would have sourced news articles to write one or two paragraph recounts. Point out the structure of those recounts. He has either an introductory paragraph (for Rizal and Melawati) or a topic sentence that serves to hook the reader. He then describes what happened, in Malawati’s case using an extract from The Sydney Morning Herald. A short and emphatic final sentence summarises the outcome; only in the Melawati example is the style different, as it is from the SMH:
- ‘Amazingly, Rizal only had minor injuries.’
- ‘The crew said Melawati cried throughout her three days aboard the trawler.’
- ‘He probably stayed alive by drinking rainwater.’
- ‘Their hope paid off.’
- ‘He was called Tsunami.’
The original reports include interviews with people who were on the spot, if not the survivor then the rescuer, but Townsend only incorporates a quote in one of the examples.
Have students in individual work choose one of the people from the ‘The lucky survivors’ section, then search the web to find a detailed news story about that survivor. (Tip: They might use the term OR when there are different spellings of a name; for example, ‘Rizal Syahputra OR Shahputra’. Searching the person’s name with ‘tsunami’, as in ‘Melawati tsunami’, also gives good results.)
Students can then use that source material to write their own one-paragraph summary. Aim for it to sound different to Townsend’s, perhaps choosing a different angle or slant in their topic sentence and conclusion. Emphasise different information and unlike Townsend, make sure they have a quote from the survivor or rescuer. They might also nominate a visual to go with their recount, if possible a different one from the one used by Townsend.
Reflecting on cultural bias
Although Townsend was very careful to include nearly all Asian people in ‘The lucky survivors’, notice how the only Westerner here gets a double page spread, ‘Steve Hunter’s story’ (on pages 26–27). Share-read this extract. In their groups, students discuss what is different about the Steve Hunter piece, then share their ideas with class. It has extensive first person quotations, a detailed account of his pain, distress, injuries and treatment, and how he is coping now. There are also two photographs, one of him looking well and relaxed, in contrast to the distressed pictures of the others, and a close-up of his injuries. Might it be true that he seems much more particularised and humanised while the Asian people seem generalised?
Have a class discussion on whether this is cultural bias — when those seen as culturally the same are considered to be of more interest to the reader.