By Peter Bannan
Reporting live from bushfire disaster zones is a complex and unsettled matter. After the media coverage of Black Saturday, almost five years ago, you hope news rooms and journalists would have learnt some valuable lessons?!
As the unfolding bushfire emergency threatened towns and homes across New South Wales over the past 24-hours, reporters and cameramen were quickly assigned to different areas heavily impacted by the fire storm.
A TEN Eyewitness News reporter was positioned outside the front of an elderly couple’s house in the Blue Mountains during the national late news bulletin. The brick house was partly destroyed, with the side of it still standing. Flames on the ground shot up ever so often. Her back was faced towards the flames as she reported live.
The couple were not home at the time. But, even if the team did seek permission, why was this not communicated to the rest of the nation? During Black Saturday, reporters entered properties and private property to give viewers the “pictures just in”.
Viewers can only perceive that the reporter didn’t have permission.
More importantly, how did the news crew get through road blocks? Clearly, they were they more interested in getting the story with a “live background”, than the safety of the themselves and the others around them.
“It is an eerie feeling being here, Danielle (late news host),” she said. “There is no power and there is no one around.”
Almost ten months after Black Saturday, a report by the University of Melbourne found that news crews were pretending to be from the Country Fire Authority to gain access into the worst hit areas. It was even reported that journalists were taken directly into the zones by news choppers.
The NSW fires is an unfolding story. More than 40 of the 90 fires raging across the state were uncontrolled on Thursday night. She put herself in danger by being in the centre of homes burning down around her.
In general, reporters like to get into the centre of the action. When Australia experiences floods, reporters don the gumboots and stand in metre deep water. Safety needs to come first.
Key ethical issues arise concerning the reasons for roadblocks, the way the media respond to them, protection of survivors from the media, protection of crime scenes and right of access to private property.
The next 24 hours of the NSW bushfire television coverage will be interesting to watch to see how the media responds to human grief.