September 1, 2010

Modest Coverage for Pakistan Flooding

In 2010 % of Newshole
Haiti Quake Jan 11-17 41
Haiti Quake Jan 18-24 27
Iceland Volcano Apr 19-25 11
Haiti Quake Jan 25-31 11
Chile Quake Mar 1-7 10
Haiti Quake Feb 1-7 8
Iceland Volcano Apr 12-18 7
Haiti Quake Feb 8-14 5
Pakistan Flooding Aug 16-22 4

#9 – Rank of Pakistan flooding among biggest weeks of 2010 international disaster coverage

More than five weeks of flooding in Pakistan have created a devastating disaster in that nation. According to the Washington Post, the floods have left about 1,600 dead and as many as 20 million injured, homeless or otherwise affected. UN officials estimated that a fifth of the country was under water as of August 12. And Bloomberg News reported that food crops worth $2.9 billion had been destroyed.

Despite the grim statistics the disaster has received relatively modest coverage in the U.S. press—at its peak, the flooding story filled 4% of the newshole the week of Aug 16-22. That made it the No. 8 story that week, behind such topics as the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and coverage of the 2010 election season.

Indeed, when it comes to international disaster stories, neither the Pakistan floods, nor any other such event, came close to generating the five weeks of coverage devoted to the January 12 earthquake that rocked Haiti, leaving up to a reported 230,000 people dead. That first week, January 11-17, the quake took up a full 41% of the newshole. And coverage remained high for the next several weeks, filling 27% the week of January 18-24, 11% from January 25-31, and falling to 8% and 5% the weeks of February 1-7 and February 8-14, respectively.

Several others overseas disasters that occurred this year also generated more attention than the Pakistan story. The ash-producing Icelandic volcano that disrupted travel plans across the Atlantic and all over Europe produced two weeks of significant coverage—7% of the newshole for the week of April 12-18 and  11% the following week, April 19-25.

And the March 2010 Chilean earthquake that killed more than 500 people accounted for 10% the week of March 1-7.

Since PEJ began the News Coverage Index in January 2007, the flooding in Pakistan ranks as only the 19th biggest week of international disaster coverage. The Haiti earthquake, (41%), easily leads the list.

Mahvish Shahid Khan of PEJ