Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haiti: Beyond The Pictures

Hi everyone. As the images of death and destruction continue out of Haiti, so too does the criticism of those broadcasting these images. A prevalent complaint is a lack of context regarding the history of the country, as well as the complicated issues associated with its future. While I believe that the media (cable news specifically) have generally failed in their duty to provide a full understanding of the issues of the day, I do not fault them for their current coverage of Haiti.

An important lesson I've learned during my years of amateur media study is this: You have to have the pictures. The horrible abuses of Abu Ghraib were reported in print prior to the release of the accompanying images, but it was the pictures that horrified the nation and caused a scandal. As human beings, we're visceral creatures.

We empathize with suffering on an individual to individual level. In a perfect world, one could cover a disaster by writing about statistics and facts, and it would propel people to take notice and act. But we don't live in a perfect world. You have to have the pictures, as well as the personal stories that go along with them.

Anderson Cooper has paved his career on this truth. The excellent work he and his colleagues are doing in Haiti right now is absolutely what they should be doing. The situation is still dire and people continue to die. The world needs to see, needs to bear witness. The heartbreaking stories and images have resulted in millions of dollars being donated for the relief effort. People care about Haiti because of what they're seeing on their television screens/computer monitors. Journalists on-the-ground are saving lives with their cameras.

While I strongly defend 360's coverage, there is other excellent Haiti reporting being done that goes beyond the pictures and devastation. In my ongoing quest to provide as much information related to the country as possible, I'd like to highlight some of that reporting in this post. Following the quake, Fareed Zakaria GPS aired an excellent concise history of the country that is worth watching:

Amy Goodman is an award-winning journalist and host of the program Democracy Now! She has covered Haiti for years, and is currently reporting from the country. Her show site holds a plethora of videos and information related to Haiti, ranging from current on-the-ground reporting, to archived coverage of the ousting of democratically-elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide. An excellent resource.

Without fail, every disaster suffered by the world is accompanied by those wishing to make a profit. In her book "The Shock Doctrine," journalist Naomi Klein posits that "disaster capitalists" will exploit post-disaster chaos to push through their own free-market agendas. She is currently keeping a keen eye on this issue in regards to Haiti, and you can find a collection of articles and other pieces at her website. It was there that I found this good report from Rachel Maddow on debt relief:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Finally, there is the disturbing related issue of profiteering through private contracting. If there is anyone who is an expert on this subject, it is journalist Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army." Unfortunately, as he reports, the exploitation has already begun:
The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group International Peace Operations Association didn't waste much time in offering the "services" of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old-fashioned "humanitarian assistance" in the form of disaster profiteering. Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special webpage for prospective clients, saying: "In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA's member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake's victims."
These are just some of the issues we need to be conscious of as the ongoing story of Haiti moves forward. I applaud the work of the journalists I have mentioned in this post, and continue to applaud the work of the CNNers on the ground. All are providing an important service, and at this point in time I wouldn't have things any other way (in regards to the coverage). I will continue to highlight all reporting being done on this story.

My readers are encouraged to email or leave comments if they come across a piece they think others should see. You can also reach me on Twitter (@newsjunkie365), where I provide both Haiti and non Haiti related information. My Haiti Twitter List has grown, and I am continually working to keep it current as individuals rotate in and out of the country. I've found the medium enormously helpful in keeping up with the situation. I will have another post for you after Monday's broadcast, if not before.

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Blogger Anne said...

Hi Eliza,

You have been doing an excellent job on your Haiti posts. Thanks for providing the links in this post. Anne D.

12:14 AM  

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