August 31, 2015


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Under the Dome

A worse situation

These words caught my attention in the recently released Manitoba 2011 Flood Review Task Force Report.

The section had to do with the media’s reporting of that spring flood and the task force’s recommendation that during a major flood, the province set up a dedicated 24-hour TV channel, and perhaps even a radio service, to provide up-to-date information on flood conditions, outlooks, what roads are closed and emergency contact information.

A helicopter ferries more sandbags to reinforce dikes along the Assiniboine River

A helicopter ferries more sandbags to reinforce dikes along the Assiniboine River

A similar TV broadcast was used during the 1997 flood in the Red River Valley.

Here’s what the task force says:

"Although the media interacted extensively with both the province and municipal officials, television and radio coverage was not necessarily focused on providing local residents with the critical information they needed. There is a big difference between a sensational media story that may make the national news and the communication of vital information to residents, such as details regarding road closures. There is a need for a one source/one story communication tool focused on the information needs of flood-affected resident."

Far be it for me to put words into someone else’s mouth, but it seems to me the task force is saying that media in general did a lousy job of covering the 2011 flood and that Manitobans, especially those in harm’s way, deserved something better.

Then there’s this:

"The communications challenges faced by the province during the flood were exacerbated at times by members of the media who undertook to sensationalize the situation, resulting in coverage focusing on psychological hardships and emotional reactions," the task force said on page 138 of its report.

"Such coverage often emphasized negative images and difficult experiences. Unfortunately, in many instances, some media had their own agenda during the event of the 2011 flood. The climate leading up to a provincial election gave them an interesting platform to spur antagonistic views that in many instances made the situation worse."

The task force offers no specific examples of this, or what type of media (TV, newspaper, radio, web) were guilty of making "the situation worse."

In one breath, the task force appears to be saying that reporters focused too heavily on the "pyschological hardships and emotional reactions" of flood victims, the people who lost their homes, cottages and farms.

In the next breath, it suggests reporters were also lapdogs to opposition politicians and other critics of the NDP.

Off-hand I can only think of what happened on Lake Manitoba at Delta and Twin Lakes Beach as something the Progressive Conservative Opposition seized on to criticize the government for its handling of the flood. There was also the deliberate breach of the Assiniboine River at the Hoop and Holler Bend and criticism from the Tories on the operation of the Shellmouth Reservoir.

In my mind the Tories and anyone else had the right to criticize government for its handling of the flood. In fact, I know the Tories intentionally held off criticizing the government in question period because they did not want to be seen to be capitalizing on the flood. That all changed when Lake Manitoba blew up.

Anyway, if the Tories and other critics of the NDP thought such criticism could boost their chances in the Oct.4, 2011 provincial election, all the more power to them.

For the task force to suggest otherwise is absurd.

I hope I’m not making a the situation worse by saying this.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

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