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air safety

Apr 2, 2014

MH370: Media plunges into disaster porn and RSR*

The news vacuum in the wake of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is starting to suck in the daft and desperate when it comes to media coverage

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More really stupid reporting or RSR, courtesy CNN

Although a sudden breakthrough in the search zone could happen at any minute, it may never happen, and the news vacuum in the wake of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is starting to suck in the daft and desperate when it comes to media  coverage.

The CNN screen grab above may seem funny, unless you work in the media, or have lost a loved one on the flight. It’s just another all too common example of RSR or really stupid reporting.

But some of the reporting is also deeply offensive. When a non-flying reporter, and most reporters couldn’t even fly a small light aircraft, hops in a 777 simulator and breathlessly re-enacts the death dive scenarios for an airliner that runs out of fuel at altitude, this is nothing less than an embarrassment.

Getting a 777 check captain to actually take the viewers through the various things that would then happen may have a justification.  But there wouldn’t be all that many such qualified pilots that would be comfortable doing that, or willing to participate in satisfying the popular media taste for disaster porn.

Reporters flicking console switches in a 777 cockpit and saying “look how easy it is to disable the transponder, or ACARS” in a disapproving mock moralistic tone, as if to say, look how derelict the designers were, is ridiculous.

If such devices couldn’t be turned off when aircraft are on the ground, they couldn’t be serviced, or reset, and the massive amounts of useless data generated would prevent modern air transport working at all. It is the witlessness of this reporting into a vacuum when there is no MH370 progress to report that helps what is left of the professional media to marginalise its own value.

It is more than reasonable at this stage to fear that an act of evil, motivated by unknown purposes or perhaps facilitated by mental illness, happened on board MH370, and took the lives of all 239 people on board.

But that isn’t a certainty either. Nothing is certain at this stage other than the fact that the airliner has crashed somewhere, and there is a very, very high probability it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, some considerable distance to the west or south-west of Perth, on the morning of 8 March.

What is a legitimate MH370 story? The attempts at message management, or if we wish, dubious standards of disclosure at the highest levels of authority, are arguably very important.  Covering the integrity of messaging in politics, public administration, consumer affairs, and, way down the list, aviation, is something that serious media seeks to address.

When Prime Ministers and senior Ministers hold a media briefing, those too are legitimate stories, even if the news, so far, has been terrible.  There are good stories to be found in the actual search operations, since such capabilities and processes have an importance that always transcends and outlasts the tragedy that is MH370.

But in the meantime, and perhaps for a long time, the tendency of some media to salivate or engage in mock hand wringing over MH370 and the misery of its living victims ought to be resisted, if not despised.

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