Broadcasters united by Tsunami, but now divided again

In the broadcast industry, everybody knows each other — but then each one minds his or her own turf.

The United Nations, humanitarian agencies and advocacy groups have all tried to get media to co-operate more with each other, but these have remained largely token efforts.

Let’s face it: the broadcast media is fiercely competitive. TV networks and channels compete with each other in a given country or region. With channel proliferation there are more offerings chasing the same eyeballs.

But extraordinary situations bring out spontaneous collaboration in extraordinary ways. One such trigger is disasters.

Last December, speaking at a regional brainstorming on Communicating Disasters that TVE Asia Pacific organised with the UNDP, veteran Indian journalist A S Panneerselvan related a heart warming story of Indian broadcasters coming together on one such occasion.

The first hours and days after the Tsunami saw the highly competitive Indian news media organizations sharing each other’s information, visual and contacts in the true spirit of cooperation.

“Generally, the Indian news market is highly competitive with 18 TV news channels. They’re not willing to share visuals or co-operate. But something extraordinary happened soon after the Tsunami news broke. For the first time, none of the channels was insisting on exclusivity. They were simply downloading each other’s images, without even bothering about the rights or other issues.

“This was indeed rare. We know how many contracts have to be signed even for broadcasting 10 seconds of a cricket match. The kind of cross-flow of information after the Tsunami was amazing. All channel rivalries were momentarily forgotten.

“The only problem was with the international relief agencies, who are extremely hierarchy conscious. They were not easily available to the news media, and often they spoke only to influential Western news agencies such as Reuters and BBC.”

Panneer is now executive director of Panos South Asia. He was formerly the managing editor of Sun TV and bureau chief for Outlook magazine in India.

Read the full report of the Bangkok meeting on TVE Asia Pacific website