Communication plays a critical role in disaster prevention and management. A variety of media channels are used for disaster communications, before and during a disaster. For example, communication in the form of visible or audible signals, leaflets, announcements by speaker cars and public events have been known. Mass media in the form of newspapers, television, radio, internet, etc have certain characteristics that make them advantageous for disaster communications. They provide easy access to large population and some of them constitute a robust communication system which remains working even in cases of a partial breakdown of the infrastructure. On the other hand, sources dealing with the media know that media can be difficult at times. There is no direct control over the content and form of information that is being transmitted. Sources who want to communicate with the public have to deal with journalists who do not form a passive “information channel” but act as gate keepers, interpreters and commentators. Media hence can support or obstruct the disaster management of government agencies and relief organizations. This research paper analyzes the print media coverage of Nisha cyclone that had hit the coast of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in November 2008. The researcher has done a survey to study public interests in content designing and disaster news presentation through print media.
Keywords: natural disasters, prevention, management, warning, communication, print media coverage
India has been traditionally vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its unique geo-climatic conditions. India’s total coastline is 7,516 kilometers in length, which comprises 5,422 kilometers for the mainland, 132 kilometers for the Lakshadweep Islands, and 1,962 kilometers for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides have been recurrent phenomena. About 60% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods; about 8% of the total area is prone to cyclones and 68% of the area is susceptible to drought. The Indian sub-continent is prone to several types of natural disasters. Major natural hazards include droughts, floods, earthquakes, and tropical cyclones and minor ones include landslides, hailstorms, avalanches, bushfires and forest fires. These disasters take a heavy toll on human lives and resources causing economic, environment and social losses. Natural disasters affect the rural community the most, as they are vulnerable to economic changes, and have no alternate means of livings. Natural disasters destroy infrastructure, cause mass migration, reduction in food and fodder supplies and sometimes leads to drastic situations like starvation. At the global level, there has been considerable concern over natural disasters. Even as substantial scientific and material progress is made, the loss of lives and property due to disasters has not decreased. In fact, the human toll and economic losses have mounted.
NATURAL DISASTERS: CYCLONES
An event or hazard is called a disaster when it threatens property and lives and is unforeseen and often sudden. The WHO defines a disaster as ‘A severe disruption, ecological and psychological, which greatly exceeds the coping capacity of the affected community’. It causes great damage, destruction and human suffering. A disaster is a very complex multi dimensional phenomenon and along many dimensions like social, economic, material, psychological or social, but unlikely to be one along all of these in a specific direction. Often the number of human lives lost is an important criterion for defining a disaster. Disaster is a sudden, calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, and destruction and devastation to life and property. The damage caused by disasters is immeasurable and varies with the geographical location, climate and the type of the earth surface/degree of vulnerability. This influences the mental, socio-economic, political and cultural state of the affected area. It may also be termed as “a serious disruption of the functioning of society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected society to cope using its own resources.”
A “Cyclonic Storm” or a “Cyclone” is an intense vortex or a whirl in the atmosphere with very strong winds circulating around it in anti-clockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere and in clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere. The word “Cyclone” is derived from the Greek, word “Cyclos” meaning the coils of a snake. To Henri Peddington, the tropical storms in the Bay of Bengal and in the Arabian Sea appeared like the coiled serpents of the sea and he named these storms as “Cyclones”. Cyclones are categorized as hydro meteorological disasters. Cyclones are intense low pressure areas – from the centre of which pressure increases outwards- The amount of the pressure drop in the centre and the rate at which it increases outwards gives the intensity of the cyclones and the strength of winds.
CYCLONES IN THE INDIAN SEAS
Cyclones form in certain favorable atmospheric and Oceanic conditions. There are marked seasonal variations in their places of origin, tracks and attainment of intensities. These behaviors help in predicting their movements.
Figure 1.1.1 Cyclone prone areas in India
Source: Compare Infobase Limited (2007)
Tropical cyclones, which are severe storms spun off from the Inter tropical Convergence Zone, may affect thousands of Indians living in coastal regions. Tropical cyclogenesis(the technical term describing the development and strengthening of a tropical cyclone in the atmosphere) is particularly common in the northern regions of the Indian Ocean in and around the Bay of Bengal. Cyclones bring with them heavy rains, storm surges, and winds that often cut affected areas off from relief and supplies. In the North Indian Ocean Basin, the cyclone season runs from April to December, with peak activity between May and November. Each year, an average of eight storms with sustained wind speeds greater than 63 km/h (39 mph) form; of these, two strengthen into true tropical cyclones, which have sustained gusts greater than 117 km/h (73 mph). On average, a major cyclone develops every other year.
Wind and Cyclones during the period 1877-2005:
283 cyclones (106 severe) in a 50 km wide strip on the East Coast
Less severe cyclonic activity on West Coast (35 cyclones in the same period)
In 19 severe cyclonic storms, death toll> 10,000 lives
During summer, the Bay of Bengal is subject to intense heating, giving rise to humid and unstable air masses that morph into cyclones. 1.25 million lives have been lost in Bay of Bengal till now because of 21 cyclones that had hit the region. The 1737 Calcutta cyclone, the 1970 Bhola cyclone, and the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone rank among the most powerful cyclones to strike India, devastating the coasts of eastern India and neighboring Bangladesh. Widespread death and property destruction are reported every year in the exposed coastal states of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. India’s western coast, bordering the more placid Arabian Sea, experiences cyclones only rarely; these mainly strike Gujarat and, less frequently, Kerala.
Cyclone 05B, a super cyclone that struck Orissa on 29 October 1999, was the deadliest in more than a quarter-century. With peak winds of 160 miles per hour (257 km/h), it was the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane. Almost two million people were left homeless; another 20 million people life was disrupted by the cyclone. Officially, 9,803 people died from the storm; unofficial estimates place the death toll at over 10,000.
Pre and Post-monsoon storms are more violent than the storms of the monsoon season. Life span of a severe cyclonic storm in the Indian seas averages about 4 days from the time it forms until the time it enters the land.
DESTRUCTION CAUSED BY CYCLONES
There are three elements associated with a cyclone, which cause destruction. They are
1. Cyclones are associated with high-pressure gradients and consequent strong winds. These, in turn, generate storm surges. A storm surge is an abnormal rise of sea level near the coast caused by a severe tropical cyclone; as a result, sea water inundates low lying areas of coastal regions drowning human beings and live- stock, eroding beaches and embankments, destroying vegetation and reducing soil fertility.
2. Very strong winds may damage installations, dwellings, communication systems, trees, etc. resulting in loss of life and property.
3. Heavy and prolonged rains due to cyclones may cause river floods and submergence of low lying areas by rain causing loss of life and property. Floods and coastal inundation due to storm surges pollute drinking water sources causing outbreak of epidemics.
It may be mentioned that all the three factors mentioned above occur simultaneously and, therefore, relief operations for distress mitigation become difficult. So it is imperative that advance action is taken for relief measures before the commencement of adverse weather conditions due to cyclones.
The most destructive element associated with an intense cyclone is storm surge. Past history indicates that loss of life is significant when surge magnitude is 3 meters or more and catastrophic when 5 meters and above.
WARNING SYSTEM IN INDIA
In the last five decades, government is making attempts to highlight the use of information technology in providing early warning systems for effective disaster management, especially in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal coasts, which are susceptible to such storms.
The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) provides cyclone warnings from the Area Cyclone Warning Centers (ACWCs) at Calcutta, Chennai and Mumbai, and Cyclone Warning Centers (CWCs) at Bhubaneswar, Visakhapatnam and Ahmadabad. The IMD has developed the necessary infrastructure to generate and disseminate the cyclone warnings to the cyclone prone coastal areas. It uses a number of communication channels like telegram, fax, e-mails, etc. to communicate warning messages at appropriate levels.
Cyclone warning is done in two stages. At first a warning on ‘cyclone alert’ is issued 48 hours in advance of the expected commencement of adverse weather over coastal areas. The second stage ‘cyclone warning’ is issued 24 hours in advance.
The IMD constantly examines the coastline for the likely genesis of tropical storms with the help of satellite imagery, particularly those from the multipurpose geo-stationary satellite, INSAT. Information from ships and ocean buoys is also taken into consideration. There is a chain of Cyclone Detection Radars (CDRs) that are installed along the coastal belt of India have proved to be an effective tool to the cyclone warning work. These radars can locate and track approaching Tropical Cyclones within a range of 400 km.
The National Disaster Management Bill, 2005 also emphasizes the setting up, maintaining, reviewing and upgrading of early warning mechanisms and the dissemination of proper information to the public.
The aim of any warning system is to alert people to take appropriate and timely steps for the safety of life and property. A natural disaster cannot be evaded but we need to make effective use of available resources to minimize the loss and aftermath.
Nature unleashed havoc in Nagapattinam and Karaikal districts on 26 November 2008. Heavy rainfall and gusty winds claimed three lives in Nagapattinam besides flooding the dwellings and driving over 78,000 people to 308 cyclone-relief centers. As the cyclonic storm ‘Nisha’ got nearer, the coastal areas started receiving heavy rains and strong winds. The total rainfall recorded at 8.30 am stood at 2,145 mm, with Vedaranyam registering the highest of 333 mm. In Cuddalore, over six lakhs people were affected by the torrential rainfall in the coastal district as more than 50,000 houses were inundated, paddy and sugarcane crops raised on 200,000 acres submerged and power transmission crippled for more than 15 hours in the district. The rainfall accompanied by strong wind uprooted more than 1,000 roadside trees. In Pamban, while torrential rain continued to lash different parts of the Ramanathapuram district on Wednesday, the fifth cyclone warning signal was hoisted at Pamban port office.
Relief Details (as on 27 November 2008)
No of people evacuated 106,145
No of relief centers opened 650
No of people in relief centers 89,395
Total no of food packets distributed 548,205
Total cash dole distributed 450,000
Cyclone ‘Nisha’ caused a death toll of 89 in Tamil Nadu. The toll in rain related incidents in Tamil Nadu during the six days, mounted to 89, with 25 more deaths reported from rain-affected districts till Friday 28 November.
It is understood that natural disasters can neither be predicted nor prevented. The problem before us is how to cope with them, minimizing their impact. Tamil Nadu has witnessed havoc caused by cyclones and storm surge in the coastal regions, earthquakes, monsoon floods, landslides, and recently the Tsunami. Increase in urban population coupled with the construction of man-made structures often poorly built and maintained subject cities to greater levels of risk to life and property in the event of earthquakes and other natural hazards. The media and disaster management agencies have important roles to play in crises. Each needs the other in order to perform its function better. Information needs to be presented responsibly, with contextual understanding. Hence, this research aims to study the print media coverage of Nisha Cyclone in Chennai edition newspapers. The objective of the study is to find out the newspapers that have greater readership among the coastal communities and to analyze the print media coverage of Nisha Cyclone.
The researcher has adopted Survey and Content Analysis method for performing the research.
The tool used for data collection for survey method is questionnaire and the samples were chosen by using simple random sampling technique. The sample size is 300 and the survey was taken among the people in Chennai who read newspapers.
The Parameters chosen for content analysis were the total number of news articles appearing relating to Nisha cyclone; the page number in which the news articles appears; pagination of the news article (left or right); placement of news articles (top or bottom); total number of black and white; colored photos; news content (Image or Text or both) for quantitative analysis.
For the qualitative analysis, the parameters taken were Context: The type of disaster news article (advice, disaster agent, safety message, damages, countermeasures, restoration); Target audience: The target audience focused based on the geographical areas and that are focused; genre of news: Feature, interview, announcement; Graphic Appeal: The type of the graphic elements used to convey news; Photo Featured: Additional resources such as visual aid (Graphic images or illustrated pictures) supporting the news item; Comprehension: The type of technical and descriptive words used in the content; Approach: News presentation in direct or third person format; Authentication of the news by analyzing the mentioned source of information; Bias: The political bias in the news.
The researcher has taken the survey primarily to determine the newspapers on which the content analysis is to be applied. Secondly the survey also intended to find what type and format of the news does people prefer when it comes to disaster and the people’s trust upon the weather forecasts. The researcher has analyzed the news content relating to the Nisha cyclone in the newspaper that has got greater readership among survey respondents.
From the survey, it was found that, the number of people who prefer television to receive the disaster related news is found maximal constituting 69%. Newspaper is found to be the next highly preferred medium with 47% and Radio was preferred only by 13% of the respondents. Since the question is a multiple choice, respondents may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%. As seen clearly the most preferred media is television: this is due to the fact that television has penetrated deeply in the society and the access to television is high as the government has given free television sets to almost all rural families. However newspapers have occupied the second place in the preference.
The number of people who prefer Tamil as the language to receive the disaster related news is found maximal constituting 63%. English is found to be the next highly preferred language. The preference given to regional language to get the disaster news is very high. And the people who prefer both the languages are found in fair numbers. Dinakaran takes the majority of the news paper readership with 40%. The second most prefered newspaper is Dinathandi. From this survey results, the Tamil daily newspaper, Dinakaran is taken for content analysis. 62% of the respondents prefer reading The Hindu. Hence the English daily newspaper, The Hindu is also taken for content analysis. 66% of the respondents read the weather report rarely and 21% don’t read the weather report at all. With respect to the credibility of the weather forecast and reports, the trustworthiness is found to be moderate.
The most preferred content for disaster related news is the combination of both text and image News on Disaster preparedness and precautionary measures are much read by the respondents. But such content is found to be minimal. Government interventions and post-disaster news are found to be more. News in the form of Interviews and featured articles are highly preferred in terms of presentation. 85% of the people share information regarding the disaster with their family, friends and relatives.
The total number of news articles that appeared in the two chosen newspapers related to Nisha cyclone in the twenty days duration between 22nd November 2008 and 11th December 2008 are: 275 articles in Dinakaran and 67 articles in The Hindu. In Dinakaran, nearly 64% of the articles appeared in the Main page and 36% in supplements. But in The Hindu, all the articles appeared in main page. Dinakaran has presented the news items in random fashion both in main and supplement pages. But in The Hindu the articles were presented only in the main paper. A highest percentage of 36% of articles appeared in the third page of The Hindu which covers regional news.
Right side of a news paper is considered to be the side of high readability but equal numbers of news articles appear both the sides. Regarding the position of news articles, it is seen that majority of the news articles related to Nisha cyclone have appeared in upper half of the news papers. More number of pictures appears in color in both the newspapers. The combination of both image and text is found high in The Hindu whereas it’s low in Dinakaran.
Regarding the information covered, In Dinakaran it is found that 49% of the news items were related to effects of Nisha cyclone on people and properties; however warning was first given only in the Dinakaran as a news article in the front page on 22nd November 2008. Only one article was on preparedness. Relief and Rehabilitation news appeared more in number followed by the effects. News involving political parties providing relief funds and people demanding their needs were given more importance.
The Hindu carried the first warning message only in the column dedicated for weather report including rainfall indications which were given right from the 20th November 2008 in the same column. Since The Hindu adopts featured articles, the above said context parameters were found in combined state in all the articles relating to the Nisha cyclone. Even in The Hindu, minimal coverage was given to preparedness and more importance was given to relief and rehabilitiation during the post-disaster phase. Regional Information was given more importance in The Hindu. Dinakaran has given a good coverage of information in Chennai and also in the areas around Chennai which was drastically affected by Nisha Cyclone. Dinakaran has presented the news in simple direct style. News items were of specific topic only. But in The Hindu the news articles were completely of the featured news format.
In Dinakaran, an underlined common topic was used to identify the cyclone related news and the follow up news articles too appeared in the same common topic. By lines appeared in the background of dual colors. Dinakaran has also used borders and color backgrounds in presenting the news items.
The Hindu has not used much of these graphic elements in presenting the news but in small number of news items it has added the borders to separate the related news from the main news. The combination of both image and text is highly preferred among the people; The Hindu follows this combination in presenting the news and additionally it has also used more than one image in this combination. But in Dinakaran, full page photo feature are commonly seen.
Dinakaran uses descriptive words for news related Nisha cyclone which is found to be harsh & aggressive, whereas The Hindu has used a gag sort of descriptive words. The approach was found to be very direct in Dinakaran but in The Hindu it appears indirect, always.
Dinakaran news articles are found to be less authentic as mere voices are presented without any reference but in The Hindu the name and place of the sources are given then and there. The bias is defined in one study as a “perceived attribute of a news source whereby the individual news source, or the group the news source represents, has a clear vested interest in a cause or action relative to maintaining or changing the status quoâ€¦ (and) a biased journalistic perspective, then, would mean only one side, not two or more sides, of an issue is presented.”. Post-disaster News is found to be biased. In Dinakaran, maximum number of articles covered are relief, rehabilitations and politician’s visits but it’s found very less in The Hindu.
Both the newspapers show very poor coverage of news on Disaster Preparedness which is mandatory. Only one article appeared in each newspaper, contradicting the highest of 38% of respondents demand for news on disaster preparedness.
Scope for information on the science concepts involving natural disasters are found more. The survey shows that 23% of the people prefer to know the technical and scientific aspects of the disasters, which nearly equals to the number of people who wish to know the statistical information.
The credibility of the weather report is very moderate. In The Hindu cyclone warning was given as a segment in the weather forecast from November 20, 2008, whereas Dinakaran gave much importance to cyclone warning by presenting it as an article in the 1st page. The importance for Nisha cyclone coverage is less as the newspaper has carried only a total of four articles in first page.
The ratio of the cyclone news coverage in The Hindu and Dinakaran is in the ratio of 1:4 showing the immenseness of Dinakaran in covering the Nisha Cyclone. This indicates that less preference is given in The Hindu for the coverage of Nisha cyclone.
Full page photo features were observed more in Dinakaran than in The Hindu. This is mainly due to the fact that picture fills the newspaper easily unlike news articles that demand efforts of news gathering, reporting and editing. The second fact is that use of color and pictures are eye-catchy and contribute to newspaper selling also. The Hindu is found to fulfill the respondent’s need by presenting news features than filling the pages with mere images.
Less than 0.3% of the cyclone related articles were on preparedness, even though people expect such news. From the survey it is found that 34 % of the people demand preparedness, warning and precautionary measures related news. Dinakaran doesn’t carry a separate column for weather forecast whereas The Hindu carries weather report every day. Weather forecast in The Hindu appears in much smaller fonts indicating the less importance given to it. The Hindu caries separate column for the weather forecasts that contain both the statistical and technical information daily, but the font size appears too small lessening the readability factor of the weather forecast.
The results of the study prove the Agenda Setting Theory. Media agenda setting refers to the deliberate coverage of topics or events with the goal of influencing public opinion and public policy. The media framed most of the cyclone stories by emphasizing government response and less often addressing individuals’ and communities’ level of preparedness, warning dissemination, information on precautionary measures or responsibility. Hence, more articles covered response and recovery than mitigation and preparation. The newspapers studied focused significantly more on government response than on key public health roles in disaster management. In future, coordination need to be enhanced among the public health professionals, policy makers and mass media before, during, and after disasters occur. We would also expect members of the general population, including DRM practitioners and policy makers, to view well-publicized issues as more important than those receiving little media attention.
Newspaper is still a better preferred medium in this digital age in receiving disaster related news articles; it can be used effectively in educating people regarding disaster preparedness in Indian context. Reporting only at the time of disaster happening has been the trend so far adopted by present media yet this rule has to be changed at this age of increasing disasters. Steps have to be taken upon improving people’s opinion on the weather forecast. This can be achieved only educating people about disaster. Finally, even though the means to the end are evolving, the goals, the values, and the underlying principles of effective disaster communication– the need for transparency, increased accessibility, trustworthiness and reliability, and to create partnerships with the media–have not changed and need to be embraced along with the practical ability to convey information effectively.
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