Not Just About the News, but How You Break Out the News

What a week! Japan was struck by double earthquake-tsunami disasters, reminding Indonesians of the similar events wiping off over 150,000 people on Aceh in December 2004. The in recent days, Jakartans were again startled by a series of bomb threats.

Yet as I was glued on TV, switching channels in between, I noticed a big gap of reporting style between the foreign and local media.

Most foreign channels including NHK, reporting on its own wrecked motherland, were focusing on data, statistics, and authorities’ formal information. There were live records of unraveling calamity, and the crew moved among rubbles and debris, yet the footages, while managed to show just how earth-shattering the disasters were, maintained neutral tone. No overly graphic images; glimpses of corpses might’ve been captured, yet briefly and in dignified manner.  After all, the corpses were still human beings and somebody’s loved ones out there.

While engaging with survivors the reporters balanced between inquiring and respecting; even typically go-getting CNN reporter turned away when survivors refused interviews or recorded on camera. No deliberate attempts to jerk tears out, yet the whole reportage were sufficiently presented to illustrate the damages, that audience naturally felt overwhelmed compassion.

Very different from local TV stations. Continuous replays of the goriest moment of Mother Nature in action, wailing victims with bodily injuries, corpses in entangled mortal positions, survivors prompted by senseless interviews, and ubiquitous tunes varying from heart-thumping to heart-rending along the scenes.  The whole reportage came off like a B-rated production of cliché, reality thriller.

I could never forget the tiny, gray-haired woman on Merapi slope helplessly screamed and kicked the SAR team. It was wrong for her to ignore voluntary evacuation to the point she had to be forcefully evacuated at last minutes, that she was endangering both herself and the SAR team, but the whole scene failed to deliver the all-important message of in-time evacuation for it only painted the all-male SAR team brusquely dragging an old lady out of her lifelong home.   

Or how when the very moment the Utan Kayu bomb exploding, slashing the poor policeman’s wrist, was caught on camera and replayed endlessly, next to him seen carried with a limping, bloody hand. No regards for young TV audience or feelings of the policeman’s family. Talk shows featured inadequate sources, not to mention well-known hardliners, that Jakarta was gripped in such terror a woman called the already busy bomb squad to defuse a package that was later found to be forgotten ordered shoes.

Our reporters are often trapped in rhetorical, amateurish Q&A like “How are you feeling being a victim of natural disaster?” Our chaos-managing Ambassador to Japan had to field such banal questions like why only certain Indonesians were at risk, that he had to inform how Indonesians lived across different areas and verbally illustrate the relative location and distance of Sendai. Didn’t that TV channel have Japan map, and couldn’t deduce a simple geographical math? What about that interrogative tone to Muslim scholar Ulil Abshar Abdalla, asking why he wasn’t curious enough to personally call the number listed on bomb package, knowing full well that it’s now Police’s business, as Ulil himself had declared?

When situation in Japan escalated, foreign channels strived to introduce Nuclear 101 and practical solutions applicable to Fukushima, while local TVs played on potential destruction, drawing as far as Chernobyl’s, featuring so-called experts to prematurely debate the prospect of Indonesia’s nuclear plant. Panic broke out, that the association of Indonesian students in Japan issued a statement criticizing Indonesian media.

Local media, especially TV stations that hold more captivating power, need to seriously shape up. Start from knowing the basic terms, like difference between actual breaking news and live coverage of already anticipated event, and the importance of correctly pronouncing whether a package is suspected as bomb, in the process of being checked, already classified as bomb by authority, or has already been defused by bomb squad, instead of just using one word ‘bomb’ throughout.

You might go after ratings, but never forget that your reporting objects are often as human as your entire audience. There are more professional ways to deliver facts and display humanity, without being reduced to tabloid-style reporting. Please!!

As published:

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