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Into the debris

April 21, 2012

When I decided to write this, I had told myself that I will try and refrain from being repetitive and not comment similarly as I had done so in 2010. However, after seeing the coverage on the tragedy last night, I realised that when this country has repeated making all the same mistakes, why can’t I repeat my statements. And so I shall.

Nobody learns from their mistakes here it seems. Perhaps nobody wants to learn – for learning will require evolving and improving as a nation and that is something we generally do not like making an effort towards.

One hundred and twenty-seven people were killed in the plane crash last evening. I can’t even make a guess on how many families and lives have been affected by those deaths and how many dreams and hopes shattered. But still, we never learn.

As I watched television reporters pick up debris from the air plane and make comments such as “This was once a part of plane, now it is a part of wreckage” I realised how desperate we are to convey information – so desperate that we don’t even think about what we are saying and what we are doing at the moment.

Every piece of metal and fabric lying on the ground, once was a part of the airplane. Making statements such as “These seats had passengers sitting on them a few hours ago and now they are just burnt remains” doesn’t really add to anyone’s knowledge of what actually took place. Neither do such statements prod sentiments further. To borrow from what I wrote last time, “They didn’t realise that flashing “honeymoon couple dead” on their tickers, would not be any more hard-hitting than the deaths of all of those who were not on their honeymoon.”

The media did not learn anything from the Airblue crash in 2010. Reporters infiltrated the grounds even before the rescue teams had started their work. Full marks given on their speed. Full marks given on their mindlessness. As media representatives hungrily rummaged through body parts, charred remains and precious possessions and allowed the camera to pan on them – I wondered what those victims’ families must be going through that very moment. I also wondered what the feelings were when the cameras moved across to another scene and the reporter flung the belonging back into the debris. It was a prop and it wasn’t needed anymore – the cameras had moved on.

Be it the interior minister or be it the media, nothing brings them faster to the screens than death. As cynical a statement as this may be but in this country it seems as if everyone is a scavenger of death – for nothing will give you a bigger spotlight and higher ratings than the news of death.

Blaming the police and rescue authorities for not controlling the media is not fair. They were there to do their job – everyone has to be their own monitor. The media’s job was to convey developments responsibly and it failed to do so again. It played with people’s sentiments, conveyed irrelevant bits of information and made their viewers watch scenes that will continue to flash across their minds long after the victims are buried. This is not journalism. This is exploitation.

The tragedy was also a great example of the perils of misreporting. Even before it could be determined what aircraft crashed and where, certain television channels started reporting the incident. From initially calling it a helicopter to eventually bringing in the captain’s credentials – all the same mistakes were made. Again.

Yes, it was the airline’s first flight to Islamabad. Yes, there was bad weather. Yes, the plane was old. Yes, it was near landing. Which one of these do you want to form your expert opinion on?

Former crash experts have claimed that the plane’s age may not have anything to do with the crash but that is not stopping people from condemning the airline’s decision to fly it. You may not want to rule it out but you may also want to refrain from making your own judgments until an enquiry is complete.

Unfortunate though that all the measures and investigations are posed after the tragedy. If the plane’s age or the weather are possible reasons, why didn’t the authorities consider this before the flight took off? Why don’t we believe in preemptive measures? Whether it is security lapses or plane crashes – we don’t really believe in looking at risks before hand. Is it because we don’t anticipate them or is it because we already have a million investigative commissions formed and no room to make more? Preemptive measures and analysis may not be able to prevent tragedies from taking place but they may be able to give us more insight on why, how and when they are likely to occur.

I cringed inwardly watching the reporting, hoping that this time no television channel will barge into a victim’s house to harass the family. But my great industry never lets me down, for that is exactly what happened. I had written the following line in 2010 regarding an airhostess who was a victim in the crash: They didn’t realise that a mother of a victim was in shock before asking her what her daughter was like in person. Please read the sentence again for I don’t need to re-word it at all.

If only various condolences could make this tragedy easier to cope with. If only something could make us understand how in an instant 127 people, including a family of five, could be wiped off mid-air. If only there was a way to have prevented this. But it happened and hundreds are mourning – as one media representative to another, can we help make this time a little less hard for everyone?


The writer is the Deputy Editor at Dawn.com