Monday, January 9, 2012

On the scene

Brian Edwards rightly takes the New Zealand Herald to task for publishing an interview with a clinical psychologist speculating on what might have been going through the minds of the 11 people in the hot-air balloon as they faced certain death.

'The events,' he writes, 'are simply too raw for the relatives and friends of those who died to see such horrific scenarios canvassed in the media.'

I agree. Needless comparisons with 9/11 are made in the interview and exaggerated into the desperate headline EXPERT SEES 9/11 LINK IN DECISION TO JUMP.


Having said that, I don't think it is entirely morbid for people to wonder what exactly happened when tragedies like this strike (in fact, it's very human—we all do it), and it is often because of the dearth of definitive information that speculative scenarios start to run rampant. Up to, say, 30 or 40 years ago media could often get close to the scene of a terrible accident and report what they saw. Old newspapers teem with extremely vivid descriptions of crashes, disasters and crimes. These days, disaster scenes are swiftly sealed off by the police, reducing journalists to picking up what details they can around the edges, while relying on the authorities to hold media conferences or make statements. Of course there are very good compassionate and forensic reasons for this, but I sometimes wonder if on behalf of all media a single, senior, pooled reporter shouldn't be allowed into a disaster scene to describe soberly and responsibly what she or he sees, without being offensive or insensitive. No pictures or film need be taken, though even that might be possible, within strict limits. Such a policy would help—in such cases—to satisfy the public hunger for information, which I don't believe is necessarily ghoulish; on the contrary, I think it is part of the instinctive sympathy we feel for the victims of tragic disasters. Responsible, controlled coverage just might avert the irresponsible stuff that arises in its vacuum when all we have is the 'official version of events' to go on.

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