Floods and selective silence in the blogosphere

Published: August 4, 2010
Email

A woman carries a small bicycle outside her shack submerged by heavy flood. Both mainstream and online media have ignored her story and thousands of others who are stranded without food or shelter.

As I write these lines, the latest reports put the death toll from floods at some 1,100 with 1.5 million affectees and some 100,000 plagued by diseases like cholera. Most of those affected are stranded at remote areas, away from safety, with no food or shelter or clean water and with no access to medical facilities. The waters still rage on and more villages are vulnerable to disaster, risking yet many more thousands of lives.

However, I am appalled by the utterly careless, stolid response of the Pakistan media in general and the blogosphere in particular towards this issue. While there has been post after post on the issue of Airblue plane crash, which I fully endorse, there has been deafening silence on the flood disaster. I have been desperately running from blog to blog but I have barely seen a post about it on any of the major blogs of Pakistan. Not only that, casual bloggers do not seem to give a damn either – if at all they have given the disaster a passive mention of sympathy in one-liners or short briefers.

Is it a coincidence?

Are forums so overwhelmed with plane crash posts? Will the flood-posts be coming soon? I don’t think so. In this case our blogosphere, which is proudly cited as the chief tool of citizen journalism and free discourse, seems to be dragging along the same lines as the conventional media – those of sensational journalism. While the plane crash immediately caused hype and became the hot topic in media circles, millions of affectees are not worth a post!

There is a stark difference in our attitudes towards the two happenings – why the disparity? To me, the only thing that comes off as a sound reason is that the plane crash was a federal incident. It happened right in Islamabad, involved educated and well-off people and was immediately accessible by more or less every media outlet. The inundated lands, on the other hand, are remote, largely inaccessible right now, and simply, a boring thing to report. Who wants to watch lives lost in a flood anyway? In this land of pure, the value of human lives certainly seems to differ from area to area and class to class.

Another thing that struck me while trying to decipher this conundrum was that maybe Pakistan’s online population, which is mostly based in either Karachi or Punjab’s developed regions, is too far away from the issue – literally. Why bother when our immediate circles or areas are unaffected?

I admit this may be crude and perhaps I am being harsh. But after hungrily searching blogs for information and opinion on the floods and relief efforts, this is the only valid argument I could come to. I must note here that there have been certain blogs making very laudable initiatives such as organizing relief camps and enlisting relief agencies (like Secular Pakistan and LUBP). But the online Pakistani populace, at large, is silent at the flood disaster. And that is a big disappointment to me.

I think it’s time to revise the basics of our blog ethics. Before this facet of blog-activism also relapses into the conventional waters of traditional media, we need to pause for a moment and think about whether or not it is going in the direction we were aspiring for? We will have our answer.

You can donate Rs10 to help affectees by texting ‘D’ to 2471. To learn more about how to help visit D for Donate. 

salman.latif

Salman Latif

A blogger who blogs at salmanlatif.wordpress.com/ and tweets @salmanlateef

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.