Sunday, May 14, 2006

Men survive Cyclone Monica and three weeks adrift at sea: No one cares

Cyclone Monica survivor, John Tabo, and family A news analysis story from last Friday really struck me. It turns out that two men and a boy survived Cyclone Monica and over three weeks stranded at sea in a dinghy off the northern coast of Queensland afterwards. At the time two different men were being rescued from a collapsed mine shaft in Tasmania. The latter story received saturation media coverage in Australia (as well as significant international coverage) whereas the former story, just as compelling in my opinion, received barely any.


I hate to point this out but the three rescued sailors are black &ndash Torres Strait Islanders – whereas the Tassie miners are not, as we well know by now. Moreover, the miners provided free advertising opportunities for various products such as *pods and s*stagen.

Here I quote the important parts of the news item that brought this to my attention. If you have a Crikey subscription you may already have read it, but if you don't hopefully Crikey won't mind another link to one of their secret pages with last Friday's news since it's three days old: Rescue! Why Torres Strait and Tasmania are worlds apart
Martin Hirst, author of Journalism Ethics: Arguments and Cases, writes:

...The racist undercurrent is pretty obvious: three black blokes from the Torres Strait don't attract the same attention as two white blokes from Tasmania. But that's only a small part of the picture. Other more important reasons flow from the media's obsession with crisis, drama and emotion-packed stories like Beaconsfield....

...When news broke that Todd and Brant were alive, the media had no choice but to enact the "disaster/rescue" game plan. On the other hand, the three Torres Strait castaways (John, John Jr and Tom) were nowhere near a convenient land base where the Winnebagos and the satellite dishes could be parked. Secondly, their rescue was not as dramatic, nor did it take so long. A helicopter went out and plucked them from the sea, with no network cameras in tow. It was all over in a brief afternoon...

...[The Torres Strait Islanders'] stories must be worth at least as much as the Beaconsfield miners' – if such things were measured by hardship, courage and incredibility. But the real measure of the story's worth is its value to advertisers, and two white boys from Tasmania are more appealing to white-bread Australia than three brave Indigenous sailors from non-mainstream northern Australia.
Now I do try and keep a little bit of a grip on the news, yet I completely missed the fact that this event had happened. Why? Well, unless you have hours and hours of spare time to cook your own food you have to eat what the public chefs cook for you, regardless of the fact the food these chefs create is often not made of fresh or quality ingredients, nor conducive to a keeping a balanced diet. But it tastes okay so we eat it.

If you missed the story like me then, for the sake of trying a different flavour and balancing your diet, check out the only news items I could find about this amazing story from Murray Island off the northern coast of Queensland. (Compare to the hundreds of news items there were about the Beaconsfield mine collapse!)
  1. Torres Strait sea rescue an 'act of God' (The Age)
  2. Men survive three weeks at sea (ABC)
  3. Three rescued from Torres Strait (Herald Sun)
  4. Beaconsfield II: trio's 22-day ordeal (SMH)
  5. Text of life (Daily Telegraph)
  6. Drei Australier dank SMS nach 22 Tagen aus Seenot gerettet (Zentralschweiz)
Image sourced from Herald Sun.
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Blogger Iain said...

I think the difference in coverage has a lot more to do with the degree of difficulty in rescuing the miners rather than the fact that they are white. ? Seems to me five days in the dark and a a most difficult rescue trumps a quick pick up by helicopter any day.

May 14, 2006 11:37 am  
Blogger Sarah said...

Lisa, I'm glad you covered this because I only heard a single mention (probably on newsradio) about that rescue, and I wondered about the difference in media coverage of the two events. Then I promptly forgot about it.

It wasn't just a quick pick up by a helicopter. Those people lived off raw seafood and rainwater for 3 weeks! The health effects of their ordeal were much greater than those faced by those two miners.

The difference in the cyclone coverage for Monica was also markedly different to that given to cyclone Larry not long before, even though Monica was a much much larger system. I figured out why when I saw an item on SBS news about all the people who had been evacuated from their homes into cyclone shelters: I saw a single white face in a sea of black faces. Compared with the pictures out of Innisfail, it was all to easy to see why the commercial media practically ignored Monica.

May 15, 2006 6:06 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

That was an important post to make. I myself was completely unaware of the story until both you and Sarah highlighted it.

It is unreasonable, at least without knowing the full facts, for anyone to say that the Islanders faced less of a fight to survive than the Tasmanians. Like Sarah pointed out: raw seafood/rainwater for three weeks.

There is, as the article mentioned, definately some underlying racism there. You can certainly see the media's priorities. But also, again mentioned in the article, the drama factor is so important. In Tas, a dramatic vigil was able to be kept. But clear evidence of heroism was not immediately available up north.

May 19, 2006 8:52 am  
Blogger geoff said...

Lisa, it's reasons like this post that I enjoy eating in your kitchen - the food's always fresh, never boring, and you always find the right spicy stuff to have it smelling right.

Food and, well, lots of things, go well together. So thanks for catering to the foodies amongst us!

(and it brings to mind Jean's home-made pies at the gourmet pub at Rushlake Green - the surprise element in asking "what's in 'em today" somehow added to one of life's bigger pleasures) Your posts are a bit like Jean's pies...

June 15, 2006 10:53 am  
Blogger Larissa said...

fThank you for your valuable insight into how both events were covered by the media. Why they were covered differently remains speculative, however, I agree with your perspective on rascist undertones. It appears to me that Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders seldom receive similar media coverage to that of white people. You have raised an interesting point. Thanks.

June 15, 2006 1:30 pm  

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