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Ethics for parachuters...er...journalists

November 15, 2013 2:29pm

So let's make CNN the poster organization for some of the ordure that's coming out of media. They deserve it.
 
But, as we are in need of help, let me praise them first lest they stop helping. I am like those desperate people we see interviewed over TV who must raise a balanced note of anger and supplication. 
 
Supplication first. Thank you, CNN, for keeping the world focused on us. Thank you for the "Impact Your World" plug that generates relief donations. And yes, people out there are desperate and they are in their fifth day of thirst, hunger and disease and you're not manufacturing their truths when you feature them. And yes, their misery is unacceptable. I am not faking my gratitude, either. Nor I am falsifying my humility in thanking you for being there. No, no, no. Beggars cannot be too critical and I, like all of us in this traumatized nation, will go beyond begging at this point.
 
And now, the anger. I switch from station to station, local and international. From radio, to TV to social media. So I just watched CNN again. It is Kristie Lu Stout inteviewing Lucy Torres. I wish I had recorded the 10 minutes I watched before I began shouting at the TV. But I will recount it as I perceived it. Stout asks Torres to comment on the fact that President Aquino has blamed the local government for the slow relief. I saw that interview. 
 
President Aquino said that, under our system, local governments are supposed to be the first responders. But central government has had to step in due to the failure of the local government units. He did not specify why they failed. Perhaps because, as we have heard repeatedly, the first responders were themselves incapacitated. This is essentially what Torres says in response to this provocative question that sets up a fist fight between local government and central government. (We need this, really? Now, at this time? Really? Thanks.) Anyway, Torres responds that Tacloban is the regional center for disaster response. But that regional response was incapacitated by the typhoon.
 
The opinion of Stout and anchorman Michael Holmes? They say, the Philippine goverment should have had a back up plan in case Tacloban failed. SAY WHAAAT!!!! Tell me please, did you come to this conclusion because of your expertise in management and disaster planning? Does this come from your study of some standard operations manual recommended by some expert U.N. body? Do tell.
 
I have watched this tale unfold over CNN and other news media. As the days have become frustrating, as even those just watching from remote Manila or a remote CNN news center receive reports from those on the ground, our hearts and minds want to stop the onslaught of these painful reports. Easy to reach for old formulas and easy paradigms. Easy to find fault in incompetent and corrupt government, especially in an underdeveloped country where, indeed, there is much corruption and much incompetence.
 
Except that there is overwhelming evidence reported, even by CNN, that the delays are due to unimaginable destruction. Of real logistical problems. Of a general lack of resources of our navy and army and bureaucracy. Of vulnerabilities magnified by the impoverishment of our communities. Let's blame someone about this too, shall we? 
 
I teach development studies which, at this point, is mostly about why poverty happens and, in a sense, who is to blame. But I am afraid that should the fault finding reach this level, the powerful people in developed countries that advertise in CNN may well start shouting at their TVs too.
 
But I am also a psychologist. And I know that people want explanations for the  arbitrary and utter devastation that can happen suddenly. 
 
When I work with women survivors of violence, I need to help them understand that finding out what mistakes they made may not be the startegy towards regaining control and security. There are reasons indeed for external forces of destruction – in the cases of VAW survivors man-made (sexist language intended) in the case of Yolanda, brought about too by humanly created climate change. 
 
Sure, there are accountabilties and lessons to be learned. But the more urgent lesson, the one that accepts that life can be arbitrarily devastating, needs to be learned too. And coping and action comes when we realize that we do have as the poem Desiderata says, "strength of spirit to shield [us] in sudden misfortune."
 
I am hoping to be counseling with some of the traumatized soon and I know that the brief encounters will not make this lesson easy to learn. But I do hope in some way that I can begin nurturing that strength of spirit. And blaming someone lies at cross purposes to this. In fact, we must begin to call on our strength of spirit as a nation and as one humanity to help and to continue to help. And blaming someone is at cross purposes to this. Our strength as a nation, that strength that made us the first country to throw out a colonial power in Asia, is our source of hope. Not really (or not just) the hope that comes from that cute baby born in Tacloban. (Why, CNN, are your stories of hope so small and individualized, by the way?)


I swear to CNN and all others playing this blame game that, when a thorough assessment is done, I will join them in calling for punishment for those who have failed our people. My expertise says that such an assessment takes more than a few observations by a few talking heads. It will take time and thoroughness. It needs to be done not just by our government, but the entire international community. But it is not yet done. So there can be no basis for this crude blame game. We wll find heroes and villains in our assessment. But I wager that we will discover, yet again, the hard truth that these journalists are unable to consider: that even when we do our best, we can have catastrophically tragic outcomes, happening right before our very eyes.
 
At this point, I would rather reach out to the exhausted aid workers in government, who certainly will not be strengthened by CNN's bashing of THEIR government; of OUR government. 
 
At this point, I would prefer a thousand parachuting pep squads bringing water food and hoorays rather than another international journalist who does not have the wisdom to see the larger spiritual truths that we need now and make those truths the ethical center from which they make news reports.  KDM, GMA News 
 

Sylvia Claudio, MD, PhD, is the director of the Center for Women's Studiies at University of the Philippines ,Diliman. This entry was posted on her Facebook Timeline on November 13, 2013. We are re-posting it here with her permission.  
 

 




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