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Media analyses lessons of Sichuan earthquake coverage

18-02-2009 (Beijing)
Media analyses lessons of Sichuan earthquake coverage
Auberi Edler addressing
the Seminar
“When a catastrophe occurs, we are the first witnesses… We have to gather the facts, ensure a proper balance between emotion and perspective, provide headline material while avoiding sensationalism”, stated Ms Auberi Edler, the well-known French journalist, at the Media Response to the Disasters Seminar, held in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province of China.
The Seminar was hosted by the Training Center of State Administration for Radio, Film and TV; UNESCO; Canal France International; and Sichuan TV Festival Office. It was attended by thirty journalists, editors and producers from Aba Television, Leshan Television, Deyang Television and other local TV stations that have been at the forefront of reporting the aftermath of devastating earthquake in May 2008.

The 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck 92 km northwest of Chengdu, affecting a vast area including 7 other provinces (Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Yunnan, Shanxi, Guizhou and Hubei). In the following months, the death toll reached 69,197 with 374,176 injured and 18,377 missing. The quake destroyed almost 6.5 million homes and affected approximately 46 million people. In Sichuan, more than 10,000 school buildings were badly damaged, 7,000 of which were completely destroyed.

Coverage of the Sichuan earthquake was a breakthrough for Chinese journalism. Within few hours after the disaster hit, information about victims, as well as about rescue efforts, started pouring from TV and Internet. In the immediate aftermath, UNESCO was active in media rehabilitation efforts in Tibetan-populated areas of Aba prefecture, by providing equipment and training to Maer’kang TV and Radio Station.

Once Sichuan was firmly on its way towards the long-term recovery, UNESCO felt that local journalists were in need to review their first experience of working in such challenging situation. What worked and what did not work in terms of coordination with central authorities? What about access to areas and people, equipment, logistics? Many of those questions needed to be analysed, with a view of improving media disaster-preparedness in China.

The reflections during the Seminar were carefully guided by Mr Wangfu, senior expert from China Central TV Station; and Mrs Auberi Edler, author and director of documentaries on France 5, Arte, TV anchor and journalist with extensive experience in war reporting. She covered issues that were certainly new to Chinese media, such as showing death and violent suffering, the Katrina’s lesson, the ‘help them’ factor, reporter’s trauma and many others. Examples and video materials came from CCTV, France 2, CNN and received extensive comments from both presenters and participants.

“When a catastrophe occurs, we focus on loss of human lives, infrastructure and finance. Time should come to cover long-term consequences. Unfortunately, media rarely do it and we call these long-term effects the forgotten issues. There are plenty: potential damage to biodiversity, effects on resources, people permanent relocation, unemployment and much more”, concluded Ms Edler.
Media analyses lessons of Sichuan earthquake coverage Participants of the Seminar

Media analyses lessons of Sichuan earthquake coverage Auberi Edler addressing the Seminar
Related themes/countries

      · China
      · Training of Media Professionals
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