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Fiji's TC Winston - how the media fared covering 'worst ever' Pacific cyclone


A destroyed Fiji service station in the wake of "super" Cyclone Winston. Image: LoopPNG

Ami Dhabuwala, Pacific Media Centre

30 June, 2016

Cyclone Winston is considered to be the deadliest cyclone to hit the South Pacific region. The Australian tropical cyclone scale and the Winston Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale both measured Winston as a category 5 cyclone which hit Fiji on February 20 this year. According to Fiji government estimates, around 350,000 people, 180,000 men and 170,000 women, were living in Winston’s path and could have been severely affected during this severe cyclone. Forty four people lost their lives. Around 1177 schools and early childhood education centres (ECEs) were affected. There were 87,000 households in 12 priority areas which needed relief after Winston. The overall damage was approximately more than FJ$1 billion (The OCHA report, 2016). Ami Dhabuwala examines the media coverage

Introduction
Cyclone Winston was a category 5 cyclone and the impact of this cyclone in Fiji was tremendous. This essay examines the coverage of this disaster by different media outlets. The analysis is based on reports of Fiji newspapers, The Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun and media coverage in neighbouring countries, such as New Zealand and Australia.

In recent years, the Pacific region has faced many such cyclones and the impact of climate change is very apparent, but the media coverage is comparatively less in terms of the global impact.

Fiji is still coping with the post-cyclone effect and there are many stories to be told, but the media coverage has become more limited and people are waiting for government bodies to solve their problems. This essay looks at how various media outlets approached their coverage.

Fiji media coverage
Fiji has two mainstream daily newspapers, The Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun. The Fiji Times is the oldest newspaper in Fiji which was established in 1869 and the Fiji Sun has been publishing since 1999.

The difference between the coverage of cyclone Winston by both these newspapers is very apparent. The Fiji Sun has covered more than 200 articles (at the time of writing) related to Winston and the newspaper is still featuring the articles showing the progress of the people after Winston.

While on the other hand, The Fiji Times’ coverage is more limited, especially considering it is such a key local media outlet, it is surprising to see such limited coverage of this major calamity.

The Fiji Sun coverage
The website of the Fiji Sun shows 37 pages of articles when we searched Cyclone Winston through its internal search engine. The articles are of various categories from the Winston alert to the aftermath. The Fiji Sun has covered some interesting stories from the rural part of the Fiji and tried to show the concern of the people in a balanced way.

Relocation is one of the major issues in terms of climate change in Fiji at the moment. The Fiji Sun broke a story immediately after Winston regarding relocation. The website has written about a Nasau village on Koro Island which has a population of more than 400 people and 4 people died during Winston (Susu, 2016). The Fiji Sun reports:

Villagers of Nasau on Koro Island, Lomaiviti, are looking at relocating following the damage left behind by Tropical Cyclone (TC) Winston.

TC Winston hit the village on Saturday and destroyed the 90 houses that made up the village.

Nasau clan leader Viliame Dovu, 76, said relocation was the only option they could think of after observing the aftermath of TC Winston on the village:

“We will first discuss this as a clan before we ask for government’s help. This is because we have lost everything to this cyclone and it is also of no use to us living here because it will keep reminding us of the near death experiences some us went through as individuals and as families that night.”

The Fiji Sun’s coverage was quite impressive in terms of the balance between the personal stories and the informative articles regarding the government’s approach, foreign alliances and their help to fight against the disaster. The newspaper reports about the Australian soldiers’ arrival on February stating "Australia’s plane loads off help here." (Qiolevu, 2016). The range of the stories was extensive as the newspaper had covered rural, local and International stories regarding Winston.

There was a story about insurance firms assuring the Fijian people about paying for their damage which received reasonable response from the people (Pratibha, 2016). The article talks about the misinformation about insurance:

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum yesterday met with the insurance companies and insurance brokers following concerns that [there was] no cover for a Category 5 Cyclone.

He said “there seems to be a lot of misinformation that despite having cyclone coverage, you will not be paid. This is not true.”

He said in 24 hours, the insurance companies would make an announcement.

Even after more than two months, there are many articles showing fundraiser programmes, various schemes and the new developments regarding close down of the certain places. It is quite remarkable to see numerous articles, not just to praise for the government’s work but outreach to the people who are in need of help.

The Fiji Times coverage
According to a Google search on The Fiji Times’ website, there are 7410 results for Cyclone Winston. But the coverage was most;y during the February 20 to March 20 period. There is some coverage during April and May, but the later articles are more about the events and the reporting is also very brief.

There is a brief report about "Beware of diseases, 100 days after Winston" from a press release by Fiji Red Cross Society director-general of Fiji Filipe Nainoca (Mudunavonu, 2016). The report states:

A total of 32,200 houses were damaged or destroyed by the cyclone. The government has launched a 'Help for Homes' scheme to help people buy building materials.

"The Ministry of Health and Medical Services is collating figures on cases of typhoid, zika, dengue fever, chikungunya and leptospirosis.”

"They are advising people how to avoid the flu and how to keep themselves safe from disease," he said.

The articles were generally more brief. There were fewer people-oriented stories as well.

It is surprising because The Fiji Times has done some tremendous work in Fiji and on the other hand the Fiji Sun is considered to be a pro-regime newspaper (Robie, n.d., p.n. 5) and many Fiji people have also written the same on their Facebook pages (Facebook, 2016).

A reader, Frances Dobui, states:

Most of your reports are biased and arrogant. And I believe that good journalism, good television, can make our world a better place. Right now I can’t say that with [the] Fiji Sun. Jyoti [Pratibha] you need to learn RESPECT.

Another reader, Steven Koroi, says:

[The] Fiji Sun can't beat the oldest and original newspaper in Fiji; [The] Fiji Times is far better than any other.

However, the Fiji Sun has certainly done some critical and in-depth reporting about Winston.

When we see the coverage from the Fiji Sun, it has covered most of the aspects of human interest related to Winston. The government’s policies, foreign workforce, relocation, Health aspects, reestablishments and many more stories describe the situation in Fiji during and after Winston. Also, the reporting is not about praising the government, there are many articles focusing on people oriented stories and their expectations from the government which make the covering more balanced.

New Zealand and Australian media coverage
Fiji’s neighbouring countries, New Zealand and Australia, are part of the First World news values model (Robie, 2008). The values, proximity and timeliness of the news are different than Fiji news media and that reflects in the reportage of some of the media outlets of these countries. Cyclone Winston was a natural disaster and climate change is considered to be one of the factors for happening that makes it a human interest news value category that applies to the First World media.

New Zealand’s media has some reasonable coverage during Winston, but there are only a few articles to follow up with the aftermath.

The New Zealand Herald has quite a few stories in terms of people suffering. The coverage is significant as they have attempted to touch social security issues such as theft (Leask, 2016). The Herald has also reported about destruction of housing in villages and their living conditions in Fiji. They were first hand reports.

However, the follow-up reports are not available on the website. There are articles regarding fund-raising and deployment of the NZ Defence Force, but the coverage about the condition of affected villages after Winston is lacking.

The Fairfax stuff.co.nz website has also covered some stories, but most of them are only during Winston. Also, they preferred to publish stories with a New Zealand angle and with generalised feature angles.

One article talks about tourists travelling in Fiji and airways connectivity (Downes, 2016).

The article “What tourists travelling to Fiji need to know” states:

Resorts and tourism operators in Fiji are picking up the pieces following Cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere.

The storm tore through the popular tourist destination on Saturday with winds gusting to 325 kilometres an hour and waves up to 12 metres high.

Entire villages were destroyed and at least 10 people were killed, but the death toll could rise as the island nation works to repair severed communications with badly affected areas.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's SafeTravel website was still advising against all tourists and other non-essential travel to Fiji on Monday.

Air New Zealand resumed flights between Auckland and Nadi on Monday, with additional capacity.

Customers with tickets issued prior to and including Thursday, February 18 for travel to and from Nadi, Apia, Niue and Tonga prior to and including Tuesday, February 23 had until Monday, February 29 to defer or bring travel forward to a different flight.

Nonetheless, RNZ International has regularly done some follow-up stories after Winston. There were 478 stories related to cyclone Winston on the RNZ international website (at the time of checking). One story was about student welfare dominating the Fiji parliament (Student welfare dominates opening of Fiji parliament, 2016).

The stories on RNZ International are more towards human interest and are people-centred, at the same time they are informative. However, some reports are quite brief.

The Australian coverage
The coverage for cyclone Winston is remarkably less by The Australian. Many articles are about general information regarding Winston. There is no significant coverage about people-centric stories. Also, there are no articles regarding the Winston aftermath.

However, The Australian reported 4-5 stories about Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop’s visit to the Fiji. The reports are also brief in nature.

Conclusion
The Fiji government declared a 30-day state of natural disaster after cyclone Winston. People are still facing trouble trying to start their lives again, but the coverage from the neighbouring countries and also the local media is significantly less now. The follow-up stories are difficult to find as most of the media outlets have focused on a "generalised" approach over Winston.

In his book Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face, Pacific journalist and author David Robie writes:

Pacific journalists now have a greater task than ever in encouraging "democratisation" of the region and informed insights into development, environment along with climate change, and peace challenges facing island states. The deliberative journalist seeks to expose the truth and report democratic solution rather than being part of the problem.

Journalists in Fiji need to take this into consideration as the coverage of the disastrous cyclone was a major calamity. Also, the media from the First World, or Western world countries, need to be able to cover such calamities and the post-disaster rebuilding phase.
 

References

Downes, S. (2016, February 22). Cyclone Winston: What tourists travelling to Fiji need to know. Retrieved from: http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/news/77143153/Cyclone-Winston-What-tourists-travelling-to-Fiji-need-to-know

Leask, A. (2016, February 24). Cyclone Winston: Bereft locals face painstaking rebuild. Retrieved from: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11594609

Mudunavonu, Peni. (2016, May 30). Beware of diseases, 100 days after Winston. Retrieved from: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=355903

Pratibha, J. (2016, February 26). Insurance firms will pay for damage says A-G. Retrieved from: http://fijisun.com.fj/2016/02/26/insurance-firms-will-pay-for-damage-says-a-g/

Qiolevu, L. (2016, February 25). Australia’s Plane Loads Off Help Here. Retrieved from: http://fijisun.com.fj/2016/02/25/australias-plane-loads-off-help-here/

Robie, D. (2008, January 1). Media and development in the Pacific: Reporting the why, how and what now. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/750669/Media_and_development_in_the_Pacific_Reporting_the_why_how_and_what_now

Robie, D. (n.d.).  The talanoa and the tribal paradigm: reflections on cross cultural reporting in the Pacific. Pacific Journalism Review. Retrieved from: http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=505272837623485;res=IELLCC

Student welfare dominates opening of Fiji parliament. (2016, May 31). Retrieved from: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/305266/student-welfare-dominates-opening-of-fiji-parliament

Susu, A. (2016, February 25). Nasau village looks at relocation. Retrieved from: http://fijisun.com.fj/2016/02/25/nasau-village-looks-at-relocation/

The OCHA report. (2016). TC Winston situation report February 27-28. Retrieved from: http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ocha_tc_winston_situation_report_8.pdf

      The readers’ opinions on Facebook. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/fijisun/?fref=ts

About the authors

PMC profile photograph

Ami Dhabuwala

PMC Reporter

Ami Dhabuwala is an engineer-turned-journalist from India contributing articles to the Pacific Media Centre and its Asia Pacific Report.

PMC profile photograph

Pacific Media Centre

PMC newsdesk

The Pacific Media Centre - TE AMOKURA - at AUT University has a strategic focus on Māori, Pasifika and ethnic diversity media and community development.


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