Tuesday, November 16, 2010

60 Minutes: Right on Time

Last week, I blogged about a perceived lack of coverage of Haiti following the outbreak of cholera, Hurricane Tomas sideswiping the island nation, and the continuing misery of 1.3 million displaced persons subsisting in refugee camps in and around Port-au-Prince.

Sunday night, 60 Minutes stepped up with a segment on the status of post-quake Haiti.  The segment, titled "Haiti: Frustration and Anger," was significant in that 60 Minutes is the long-running news magazine and one of the staples of the number one U.S. broadcast network.  According to the TV ratings website, Zap2it.com, 60 Minutes took second place to a Fox football broadcast at the 7 PM hour.

Starting out with an interview with the mayor of Carrefour, a town adjacent to Port-au-Prince, Byron Pitts took viewers on an investigation about the slow pace of recovery and the failure of 5 billion dollars in aid to reach people on the ground.  Carrefour is home to a refugee camp on the median of a busy thoroughfare.  The battle to contain the cholera outbreak, rubble removal and reconstruction delays, and the political environment all made it into the story, which ran 12 minutes.

President Bill Clinton and the prime minister of Haiti, Jean-Max Bellerive were the key interviewees.  Given the huge proportion of the population in tent camps, housing is the biggest problem.  The fact that a show with the 12 million viewers of 60 Minutes, a key to CBS ratings success, should draw needed attention to the lack of progress in resolving this and other problems following the tragic disaster in Haiti.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Flooding and Cholera in Haiti Barely Registers in U.S. Media

Last weekend's passage of Hurricane Tomas, left Port-au-Prince relatively unscathed and despite the continuing deadly outbreak of cholera that has reached the capital, stories about the double disaster hardly flooded U.S. broadcast and cable outlets.

I don't mean that networks like ABC didn't carry the stories - both ABC World News with Diane Sawyer and Good Morning America have carried stories over the last 72 hours.  CNN did a story on the links between uncollected garbage that has mushroomed since the earthquake and the cholera epidemic.  CNN also ran a story occasioned by the landfall of Tomas last weekend titled Haiti's trifecta of disaster attempted to provide a context for the persons displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake.  The story featured an interview with a spokesperson from the Haitian Red Cross who talked about lack of investment in infrastructure and disaster preparation.  She predicted it would take years to make headway against this legacy of neglect.

It is stories last this last one that try to take viewers to a vantage point where they can get a perspective about the swirl of factors that make it hard for outsiders to make sense of what's going on in the hemisphere's first black republic.  These rare stories approach the job done by print and multimedia journalists such as Ansel Herz who details the choice aid groups are forced to make, surveying damage after Tomas while displaced families wait for shelter.

Viola Nicola's flooded tent in Leogane (courtesy Ansel Herz)

While poignant, photos and footage of patients sick with cholera, can't compete with the "disaster porn" of hurricane-driven rain and wind lashing reporters and flood waters washing away shelter.  Ironically, the time bomb of epidemics set in motion by the January earthquake offers a grim opportunity for the spotlight to be turned on the stalled disaster recovery.  Given the glancing blow by Tomas, sensational video didn't emerge from the island nation.  Despite this blip on the radar screen of world attention, it's not clear that even a raging cholera epidemic centered in crowded Port-au-Prince will bring the sustained awareness that could lead to an outcry about the slow pace of solutions being implemented.