Watching the Watched during Yolanda

I have refrained from posting anything about Yolanda, determined to to just shut up and help out. I told myself to wait until some of the dust cleared, and then maybe we can help one another out in the learning process. 


I work in a field that has a lot to do with media, and I also teach students a bit about said field. So I might be a bit concerned on how we can improve the media – especially during a time of crisis. Besides, I’m Filipino, and I want my news – how I get it, how it’s consumed and spread – to be able to help me help those who are in need. 


I also have some friends in the Broadcast Media. And some of my friends are reporters themselves. I salute you guys, especially those who were there in the midst of the onslaught, never leaving their post, and making sure you reported what needed to be reported – even to the point of sacrificing your safety and lives. So I do not mean to bash, I mean to help out a bit. If this reaches you, and if you agree with some of the points – I hope we can get the opinions to the people who matter. If you disagree, maybe you might actually know better, but I hope I made you think.


1. Accuracy over Attention

Leading up to Typhoon Yolanda’s arrival, a particular newspaper kept using US-based descriptions and classifications. This made the storm sound more terrible. Sure, it made the news more exciting. Sure, it made me want to read said daily. Sure, it might have grabbed a lot of people’s attention. Okay, it might have helped some people prepare better. 

But what if we focused instead on being accurate instead of grabbing attention? There was much talk on the magnitude of the storm, how large and scary it was, but there could have been a lot more talk on which parts of the Philippines it was going to target, really. How long was it going to stay? What does it mean if the storm is that big? What storm in recent memory could equal this storm? If I have relatives in the affected regions, what should I do?

And this brouhaha over the “storm surge.” The media did a good job telling PAGASA they should have clarified what this actually meant. They did a good job telling PAGASA that the confusion led to many lives lost. True. But didn’t the news outlets get the PAGASA report and were actually able to read “storm surge” there? In the spirit of being accurate in order to inform, could they have tried to clarified with PAGASA before Yolanda hit? “Excuse me, Mr. Meteorologist sir, it says in your report ‘storm surge.’ I’ve never seen this before. Can you enlighten us? What’s it like?”  


2. Cooperate Instead of Catfighting


People were dying. I don’t care who was right and who started it. People were dying while you were pulling each other’s hair and hitting each other with handbags over national and international TV. People were dying. 


3. Now that everyone’s a reporter, maybe everyone should be more responsible. 

I get it. Citizen journalism is the thing now. And with instagram and instant status updates from anywhere and everywhere through God knows what ungodly speeds and connections, everyone can be a journalist. 

If that’s true, then maybe everyone should also go through the basic journalist rules. If you’re going to post something, make sure it’s true. Especially during a time that people’s emotions are as tempestuous as the typhoon. 

At least people in the traditional news outlets have balls enough to be accountable when they’re wrong. Sure, there’s freedom of speech on social media yada yada yada. But with it comes great responsibility to the truth and to everyone who can share your update. 

So there is no excuse for posting inaccurate and plain wrong information about people who did this or that or supposedly shameful acts. Such an act is libellous, and in this case, I see the point of the much-ballyhooed online libel law. 


4. Move us to action. Don’t just plunge us into despair. 


During the typhoon’s attack, and even afterward, several people uploaded and shared videos and pictures of the typhoon’s wrath.

I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they just wanted to inform people of what was happening. Because if it was mindless updating and sharing just for the sake of being first to share or upload, or plain mindless sharing, this is my question to you: what did you really want to achieve when you shared or uploaded images or videos of despair? What reaction did you want to get out of people? 

Part of social media responsibility is that we try our best to post/upload/share with an objective, or at least some semblance of measure, of how people might react to what we share. 

Images of despair left unaided will plunge us all into exactly that: despair. Unaided videos of violence can just leave people feeling helpless. 


5. There is a right time and place for selfless and hashtags. 

While most probably innocent and well-meaning, selfies with #rescuePH or #Yolanda popped up more than once in a while. I get it – volunteerism is the new activism, they say, and you’re proud of the moment. But maybe you could have waited until after a week or so? Or at the very least, maybe you shouldn’t use the hashtags reserved for far more important matters like locating missing people or directing people to where help is needed. 

6. “resilient” 

I don’t know about you, but I was taught that telling people they “could do it” without listening to what “it” really is, or appreciating “it” is not only insensitive, but can also be insulting. How do you tell people who are suffering that they could go through what they’re going through? I’m sure you want to give them hope. But I’m not sure you stuff it down their throats before listening to them and helping them.

All the “resilient” posts and messages, all the “we will rise again” and variations thereof are all well-intended. But seeing them right at the moment the tragedy was occurring seemed insensitive and quick to dismiss the suffering people were going through. 

What I did find inspiring were images and posts that showed Hope-at-Work. This versus Hope-Dispensed-like-coins-to-beggars definitely gave me much more… well… hope. 

7. Just cover it. Don’t call it special. 

I cringed every time I heard and saw media giants call their Yolanda news updates their “Yolanda SPECIAL Coverage.” 

Am I supposed to applaud? Am I supposed to feel like I owe you something? Am I supposed to feel like you’re giving me more than my money’s worth? That I’m getting something extra? Like a Special Siopao or Buko Pie? 

Just cover it, guys. Again, people are dying. Do you really want to call your coverage that shows these people dying and helpless “Special?” 



I’m sure these are just some of the things we can improve on as a media force that serves our nation. And I’m sure we can definitely improve. 

Also, these are just some of the observations for the media-at-large. How we can improve in other areas like government response, is a whole other typhoon of a conversation in itself.