For days, the media has covered the attempts to rescue five people trapped deep at sea in a tiny submersible after their visit to the Titanic wreck turned into a disaster. We know who is on board, that they are very close to running out of air and about the various agencies putting huge resources into saving them. I’ve even learnt that if I get trapped in a submarine I need to bang continuously for three minutes every 30 minutes…
As this has gone on, another narrative has formed. Why didn’t the media spend so much time covering the horrific recent incident in which 38 migrants drowned off the Greek coast? Why do we only care about these (very) rich people?
I think the first question is an important one to ask. The speed at which the news moved on from the horrific Greek incident is very troubling. There were headlines in a couple of news bulletins in the immediate aftermath and little else. (I await people sending me links of comment and news updates in the comments…) In the same way there were days of coverage looking at the systemic failures that led to a catastrophic death toll following the Turkish earthquake, media beyond Greece should have scrutinised the failure of the country’s authorities to help those highly vulnerable people.
I could write a whole other blog post about how we need to change the dehumanising way the media discusses refugees and migrants.
Ongoing Story = Ongoing Coverage
That said, I don’t believe the comparison between the Greek incident and the trapped Titanic tourists is an entirely valid one. And I certainly don’t believe the coverage of the submersible is down to the fact the people on it are rich.
Ongoing rescues inevitably prompt ongoing media coverage. The story has not ended yet, so neither does the reporting. For days, rolling news showed all the twists and turns as the Thai football team was rescued from caves and the Chilean miners were hauled back above ground. I remember Sky News showing a countdown of how many miners had been saved. They were certainly not billionaires down that mine.
I think these tweets from Semafor’s Tom Chivers sum things up rather well:
Incidents like the migrant boat drowning are tragic and deserve more robust reporting. They reveal systematic failures that we should discuss at length. However, situations in which there is dwindling time for a potential rescue will almost always attract a different, and extensive, kind of coverage, whether the people are rich or not.