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A worse situation

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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 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.



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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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