MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “It’s as if CNN turned into a local channel.”
Social media-savvy Filipinos could not help but comment on the international news channel’s wall-to-wall coverage of the devastation Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) wrought on central Philippines.
The world’s biggest typhoon easily became one of the biggest stories of the year, with top global journalists and media organizations showing audiences from all over the globe heart-wrenching images of a disaster whose magnitude was unprecedented in Philippine history.
On the fifth day after the disaster, CNN’s Anderson Cooper called out the Philippine government for the slow relief effort, saying it was unclear who is in charge. He described the condition in Tacloban City as a “miserable, miserable situation.” Tacloban is among the areas that bore the brunt of the typhoon.
“It is a very desperate situation, among the most desperate I’ve seen in covering disasters over the last couple of years,” Cooper said while reporting live from Tacloban on Wednesday, November 13.
“You would expect perhaps to see a feeding center that had been set up 5 days after the storm. We haven’t seen that, certainly not in this area. Some food is being brought to people here at the airport, some water being distributed but these are very, very difficult conditions for the people here on the ground and it’s not clear how much longer it can continue like this. Something’s got to give.”
In 2005, Cooper also took US officials to task over the response to Hurricane Katrina. This time, he said Filipino victims are desperate.
Cooper added, “Certainly, US military personnel are here on the ground. There’s a group of marines here, they’ve set up operation. They’ve checked out the airport. That is underway and that cannot come soon enough. But as for who exactly is in charge of the Philippine side of this operation, that is not really clear. I’m just surprised. I expected on this day 5, I thought I’ve maybe gotten here very late, that things would be well in hand. It does not seem like that.”
A journalist who has covered major disasters and conflicts, Cooper compared the Philippines’ response to Haiyan to that of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
“When I was in Japan, right after the tsunami there two years ago, within a day or two, you had Japanese defense forces going out, carving up cities into grids and going out on foot looking for people, walking through the wreckage. We have not seen that here in any kind of large-scale operation.”
Cooper is just one of CNN’s anchors and reporters on the ground. Andrew Stevens got to Tacloban before Haiyan made landfall, with Paula Hancocks following suit. In Cebu are Anna Coren and Ivan Watson. Kristie Lu Stout anchors from Manila.
From breaking news to people stories, weather forecasts, scientific analysis to Twitter trends, international news agencies’ extensive coverage of Haiyan showed the extent of the destruction and prompted the influx of foreign aid.
UN humanitarian chief Valeria Amos said in a press briefing, “We have already seen an international and generous response given the horrific pictures that people have seen, particularly on their television screens.”
Tsunami, Katrina, climate change
Besides CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, even American networks like NBC, ABC, and CBS deployed correspondents to report on the aftermath of Haiyan.
Those who could not send reporters contacted local news groups. For example, Rappler got requests for reports, video and fixers from 10 news organizations from areas as diverse as the US, UK, Israel, France, Germany, Singapore, Canada, and the Netherlands.
“Death, fear and humanity at typhoon’s ground zero” went the November 12 headline of The Guardian. The typhoon was also the banner story of the US and international editions of The New York Times and CNN, washingtonpost.com, BBC, and even a newspaper in Finland.
This is not the first time the Philippines made global headlines. Events like the 1986 People Power Revolution, EDSA 2 in 2001, and more recently, the 2009 Maguindanao massacre made the Philippines the top story in world news.
This time though, the focus is on a climate event that occurred as the United Nations meets in Warsaw, Poland to discuss actions needed to fight climate change. Philippine negotiator Yeb Saño made an impassioned appeal for developing countries like the Philippines bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.
Foreign correspondents often compare Haiyan to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed over 200,000 people in 13 countries.
Hancocks said, “The sheer devastation and debris is something I have seen from tsunamis – I haven’t seen damage of this magnitude from a typhoon before….This country sees more than 20 typhoons each year but not at the level or scale brought on by this storm.”
CNN’s Paula Hancocks & Paul Davitt sleep & work here in shell of shattered airport in Tacloban, Phillipines pic.twitter.com/1Vxor5ZHFm— Ivan Watson (@IvanCNN) November 10, 2013
International journalists also use Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy as a point of reference.
A Los Angeles Times story reported, “Even Hurricane Katrina, the modern measure of nature’s disastrous force on the United States, pales when compared to the punch and expected devastation from Typhoon Haiyan.”
BBC’s science editor used a virtual reality studio to explain the forces that made the typhoon severe, while CNN meteorologist Mari Ramos constantly tweeted about Haiyan’s path, and before-and-after photos of hard-hit areas.
The global reports also depicted the level of response by a government faced with calamities of this proportion.
With the backdrop of a wounded man being boarded on a military chopper in Northern Cebu, Coren reported, “They need food and water. Despite assurances from the government, aid has yet to arrive. The problem is logistics.”
Personal experience, emotional reporting
Glocal coverage is not limited to big picture reporting and analysis. Like local reporters, foreign journalists reported their experience at the height of the typhoon as they became rescuers or victims.
Stevens did a package about his hotel in Tacloban getting inundated and a family trapped in one of the rooms. “It was time to stop documenting the storm and get into rescue mode,” he said. Video by storm chaser James Reynolds showed the anchor and his crew helping a family get on a foam mattress and wading them to safety.
Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan did a phone report narrating her two-hour ordeal of almost having to jump to floodwaters from her hotel in Leyte. “Everything else that we had had been swept away. We had nothing left except the clothes on our back. The camera was completely broken.”
International correspondents though have shifted the focus back to victims who lost lives, family, and homes. They noted that the typhoon hit one of the poorest regions in the Philippines.
Hancocks interviewed a tearful couple whose 3 daughters were swept away from their arms. Two died and one was missing. “I hope she’s alive,” said the father.
Agence France-Presse’s Jason Gutierrez told one of the most compelling stories of life in Tacloban after Haiyan. He talked to Edward Gualberto, who raided a home with the owner’s bodies still inside.
“I am a decent person. But if you have not eaten in 3 days, you do shameful things to survive,” Gualberto said.
Filipino netizens expressed gratitude for the focus on their country, hoping all this attention will lead to desperately needed aid and information, and avoid a repeat of the horrific images they had seen on screen. – Rappler.com
What are your thoughts on media coverage of Haiyan? Let us know in the comments section below.