Covering disasters: Expert tells media not to focus on death toll

Don Kevin Hapal

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Covering disasters: Expert tells media not to focus on death toll

Adrian Portugal

Mahar Lagmay, who heads UP's Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards project, says the media should also report on other forms of losses during disasters. Media organizations do.

MANILA, Philippines – A disaster risk reduction expert said on Thursday, March 1, journalists covering disasters should go beyond reporting mass casualties, complaining that they fail to look at other forms of losses.

“I’ve always been asking media: why is it that when they cover hazards and their impacts, they only cover those that have deaths?” said Dr Alfredo Mahar Francisco Lagmay, director of the University of the Philippines’ Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (UP NOAH) project, responding to a question at the ASEANnale forum at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

“If there are mass casualties in a certain area, they report it repeatedly. For good reason: it’s captivating. They earn money from it,” he added. 

Lagmay compared the media coverage of super typhoons Haiyan and Lawin: “[In Lawin], there were not many deaths, but there were lots of losses in agriculture and livestock and crops, etc. And they didn’t cover that. What happened was that there was not a lot of aid to help people who were suffering from their losses, in terms of crops and livestocks.”

Fact Check: Media organizations, not just Rappler, also report on housing and infrastructure damage, as well as agriculture, and fisheries losses. These information are routinely included in the updates issued by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, as well as by various departments. 

Below are samples of Rappler reports on some of the biggest disasters:

Disaster beat reporters needed

Lagmay also emphasized the importance of having experienced reporters covering disasters.

“On media practitioners…. I’ve always said to NDRRMC, that there should be a mainstay in NDRRMC. Because every time we talk to them, they are newbies. They don’t know what happened in the past and they have to upgrade their knowledge about disasters, concepts, hazards, and so on and so forth,” he said. 

According to him, it’s important that there are “permanent” people reporting on disasters.

“What’s happening now is, because people get transferred from one place to another, the people that we need to communicate disasters and disaster-related information, we lose that opportunity to be able to get the people to be informed well. And sometimes, that information could be critical,” Lagmay said.

The Philippines is a disaster-prone country, battered by about 20 tropical cyclones every year. In 2015, a research showed that 8 of the 10 most disaster-prone cities in the world are in the country. 

Lagmay presented on Thursday 2010 data from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, which showed that the Philippines is the most disaster-prone among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation. – 

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Don Kevin Hapal

Don Kevin Hapal is Rappler’s Head of Data and Innovation. He started at Rappler as a digital communications specialist, then went on to lead Rappler’s Balikbayan section for overseas Filipinos. He was introduced to data journalism while writing and researching about social media, disinformation, and propaganda.