19 Aug, 2010

I don’t often watch mainstream news…

19 Aug, 2010

I don’t often watch mainstream news, but every now again when René turns it on and something catches my eyes, I sit down for a moment. Today, I’m reminded once again why I stay far from news outlets such as mainstream TV. As I walk by the family room, I hear Brian Williams talking about the floods that are ravaging the land around the River Indus in Pakistan. Twenty million people have been displaced – they are without home and are desperate for basics such as shelter, food and water. Brian Williams tells us that the disaster is getting worse and there is no relief in sight.

After a few shots of one family that’s lost a home, the camera zooms in on the homeowner who shouts into the camera (not word for word): “Our government is useless. We’d be better off under military rule.”

And then the story moves to commentary on how the US must send support to Pakistan before religious extremists win the hearts of those who are suffering, glossing over the fact that 1,500 people have died, 20 million people are without homes, and there will be more deaths as illness spreads. (In today’s New York Times editorial the emphasis is once again on stopping ‘terrorists,’ and not as much about human beings who have lost so much.)

As I absorb the information being telecast to millions of US viewers, I ask myself if any government is ever ready to deal with disaster in a manner that all suffering will be relieved. And if the government cannot be there, why is NBC news giving airtime to a man who wants a military dictatorship? When

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, did we find US mainstream news airing opinions of enraged citizens asking for the US army to take over? Governments should be viewed critically – and there was certainly a lot to criticize in the way the US government at the time handled the disaster in New Orleans – but is criticism of government synonymous with demanding dictatorship? Or does the ‘dictatorship’ option just apply to countries such as Pakistan that are struggling to strengthen structures of democracy?

Since I’m stuck to the TV now, I end up remaining on the sofa. René switches to PBS news, and there, too, is coverage of the situation. Gwen Ifill is talking to Saima Mohsin who’s reporting from Karachi, and the story is much more balanced – about the risks, hunger, and the losses faced by 12 percent of the overall country’s population since the flooding began almost three weeks ago. This is not a blog in support of PBS, because I’m not often satisfied with the reporting there either.

But today, Ifill’s coverage does help assuage the rage I feel after listening to “cheap TV” as René calls it. To read and listen to Pakistani news sources try some of these: Dawn, The News, Geo TV.

I’m also getting a lot of emails and phone calls from concerned friends about where to donate.

My friend Sorayya Khan compiled a great list of NGOs in Pakistan:

The Citizens Foundation

Edhi Foundation

Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS)

The Rural Support Programme Network

Kashf Foundation

From my sister Beena: Karachi Relief Fund

Checks can also be sent to the “Prime Minister’s Relief Fund” through the Pakistan Consulate in Houston.