Bay kou Bliye, Pote mak Sonje.

“He who strikes the blow forgets, but the receiver remembers” – so goes an old Creole-Haitian proverb. It’s particularly poignant in the light of this week’s 7.0-sized earthquake outside Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital.

Much of the city has been destroyed – including President René Préval’s palace, the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the National Assembly.

Initial casualties were estimated to be at 50,000 but the Red Cross now estimates that it is around 200,000; with over 3 million people directly affected by it.

While a study into the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden system ruled that there could be dangerous seismic activity in the future, Haiti has not experienced an earthquake in many years. Many of us remember the mass flooding and hurricanes that battered the island in 2008 – but no one would have expected an earthquake of this magnitude to hit with such venom.

As is common in such disasters, buildings were completely destroyed and communications were all but cut-off across the country. This always adds strain to relief operations in a disaster zone. In an island nation in the developing world, this disability has crippled the nation.

The harbours in Port-au-Prince have also been battered and ruined, rendering rescue and aid operations by sea essentially ineffective.

Haiti is a poor nation, plagued by income inequalities, poor resource allocation and unequal distribution of wealth between rural and urban areas. In the wake of this earthquake, these factors have compounded the aftershock.

Relief efforts in Haiti. Picture credit: CBC

Survivors have been sleeping on the streets or in shacks; looting and robbery is rife everywhere you look; food and water is scarce at best. Infrastructure in Haiti has taken a beating – roads, the ports and other methods of transportation have been rendered useless.

Reporters and foreign correspondents have used neighbouring Dominican Republic as a landing base, and travelled across the border to various cities and towns.

Dominican Republic was the first to announce and aid package to Haiti. They have send food and water; medical teams and equipment; the use of hospitals and transportation services in Dominican Republic; as well as equipment to help remove rubble and assist in relief operations. The Dominican Republic is also the main point of contact for relief organisations – its Red Cross is liaising with the International Red Cross.

Since then, local wire services around the world as well as Britain’s The Telegraph has reported that military, emergency & rescue, as well as food and logistics aid have been sent to Haiti from South America, Europe, Africa, the Asian sub-continent, the Middle East and other nations in the Americas.

The Telegraph also estimates monetary packages from the UK to be $10 million and $100 million from the World Bank. The International Red Cross is co-ordinating the bulk of such efforts, and has also pledged an initial $10 million. Aid agencies, churches and individuals from around the world have been sending packages filled with clothes, shoes and any emergency items they have.

The American Red Cross appealed through Twitter and Facebook for donations and received $35 million, $8 million of those from donations given through text messages

This morning, BBC reported a UN aid bundle to be pledged to Haiti, estimated at $562 million. This will be aimed at victims of the earthquake directly, and will be given for a period of six months.

Emergency first-aid stations near Port-au-Prince. Picture credit: Pennlive Online
Survivors cling to family members in rural areas of Haiti. Picture credit: AM770 Radio

15 hours ago, this Tweet from AP popped up on TweetDeck:

oskargarcia:How do we illustrate suffering in #Haiti without being excessively graphic? Our photo chief explains. AP: (via @AP)

I retweeted it and had an interesting debate about the use of emotion, even graphic emotion, in news stories and their value. Look at the following videos from AP. They illustrate the human face of this disaster, making full use of the video and internet media to convey their message and get the image from the ground to its audience.

Personal stories of local initiatives to abet the disaster, such as the one below, give hope to the viewer that something is being done to quell the suffering.

But should the media be using their power and technology to convey all sides of the disaster? Should we be seeing photos such as the one on the left, and videos such as this one, raw footage (or ‘rushes’) of rescue missions?

Should we perhaps stick to the pattern of news stories such as ‘Reporter’s Notebook’, from AP (below)? An explanation of the story, some background and footage? Would the story come across better if images of pain and suffering were tempered by a reporter’s analysis?

The BBC has a wonderful knack of immediately attaching human value to a story without making it superfluous. By telling it ‘as it is’, does a story carry more value than that with too much emotion? Read these survivor stories from Haiti, taken by BBC’s correspondent Andy Gallagher: Haiti Quake: Survivor’s Stories

Survivors mourn the dead in Haiti. Picture credit: The Telegraph

Going back to the debate at hand, Suzi from Slovakia discussed CNN’s reports:

@sanjukta_m: to be honest i cant watch CNN in these days i just cant stand those terrible images.i watched it for a few minutes and i cried:(

@zuzufalta 😦 It’s really terrible, but then I’m sure the anchors would have time to just take it all in, let off steam & then go on air

@zuzufalta I think so long as you have that, you’re pretty much OK. During the reports, a lot of them explain how awful the sit is too

@zuzufalta so it’s not like they’re completely disguising it and putting on a brave front with hearts of stone, right? That’s what I’d do…

My cousin Nalini also added:

@sanjukta_m you can make a story emotional w/o including your emotions–anecdotes, adjectives, etc. but news pieces should focus on the info

@nalinip That’s exactly it. I think what makes a story great is the human value you put to it, otherwise no one feels empathy for what you

@nalinip …say. I think so long as it’s objective but still contains enough heart to get through to the average viewer, you’re doing OK

An injured young boy covered in ash from the buildings in Port-au-Prince. Picture credit: The Guardian

Freelancer and PR consultant in Brazil Julie thinks you have to separate your loyalties to the audience as a journalist, and your personal views as a citizen:

@sanjukta_m As a journalist I’d say no. As an ordinary citizen I’d say… it’s almost impossible!

@Julie_DC Tough call right, bc what makes you ’emotional’ – adding a human face to a story or taking a side? If latter, agree with you 🙂

@Julie_DC Human face can add value to a story – what would this one be without the words of locals, photos & video footage on the ground?

@sanjukta_m Sometimes… it’s just impossible to hold it together, San. To see someone suffering in front of you… tough situation.

@Julie_DC If that’s what makes a story emotional, then I’d say you should do that to make the piece complete. But wo bias – tricky I know!

@sanjukta_m But we have to do everything we can to avoid that. Agreed.

@Julie_DC I can imagine it’s tough. All abt getting that balance down – so long as that…

@Julie_DC …’emotion’ doesn’t get in the way of your report’s accuracy, don’t really see the problem. Have you done many reports like that?

@sanjukta_m nooo, although I can work as a freelancer, if I can. I’m from International Federation of Journalists. But work as PR.

At the end of the day, this is a human story, with human suffering and casualties. To not make that the focus of a news story would not only be foolish, it’s bad journalism. Emotions and certain angles to a piece should never get in the way of a reporter’s objectivity; but adding human value to a story makes it that much more relevant to your audience.

Not that this particular tragedy needs to add anything in order to make it relevant to a global audience, of course. Some images and footage may be disturbing and it’s never easy to see people in pain while you feel helpless in domestic comfort. So far, none of these stories have exaggerated the scale of Haiti’s earthquake; so long as a story isn’t disrespected by superfluity, there is no risk of becoming too involved or in conveying too much emotion.


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