Tuesday 28th March 2017, Cyclone Debbie wrecked havoc on the north Queensland coast. Classified a category 4 cyclone, devastating winds thrashed coastal areas such as Airlies Beach, Ayr, Bowen, Hamilton Island, and Whitsunday Island at a phenomenonal speed of up to 270km. Massive seas lashed at the shorelines and heavy rain swished around in the wind emphasising the ferocity of Cyclone Debbie.
Prior to Cyclone Debbie hitting shore, low lying areas such as Mackay were advised to evacuate, with around 25,000 people abandoning their properties for safety. The remaining residents decided to sit it out. Warnings were issued for people to stay indoors and away from windows. Videos popped up on social media of the severity. I sat on my lounge alongside my house mate watching the freaky event on TV. It certainly looked scary and dangerous from where I was sitting. My thoughts and prayers were with the people having to endure the onslaught.
With all this going on you would think that everyone would be thinking safety – get out of the weather and stay safe. But sadly they weren’t. I was shocked at the irresponsible behaviour of the media as well as residents of one of the areas deciding a cyclone was a great time to go for a surf. One journalist in particular was a point of disgust and blatant disregard to the well being of himself as well as the crew who had to follow him around, and coped an onslaught of his own.
I arrived home after a visit to my GP to find my house mate lying on the lounge watching the cyclone news on Channel 7 Prime Wollongong on a program called Sunrise. On the screen was a journalist standing on a balcony of a hotel. I watched as he told of the fierce winds and rain and directed the camera person to stick the camera around the corner for a peak at the ocean smashing the shore. Then I saw another journalist on yet another balcony of a different hotel in a different area with same story of destructive winds and rain. After that, another journalist was shown situated at a pub in yet another area. Finally, in Bowen, there was a man dressed in a red raincoat standing in the wind and rain, being thrashed by the weather so much he had to hold his coat over his head, squint and hold his head awkwardly in order to see. The noise was also so loud he had to yell for the camera person to hear him talk about how bad it all was. In the background of each of these reports was the eerie sound of the wind, the violent bending of trees and the whiteness of the rain.
The journalist which struck me as the most reckless was the man in the red rain coat at Bowen. Not only did he stand in the horrendous weather, he and his crew drove around in it also in order to show the destruction live at various parts of Bowen. In the first report I saw him give, while he stood being knocked about in the cyclone, the man said, “ It’s pretty hard to snap a palm tree….”
The camera man zoomed in on a fallen palm tree not far behind the man in the red rain coat.
During all this, I was dumbfounded at the dangerous situation this man was in. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. At the bottom of the screen was the continuous stream of updates – stay indoors and away from windows, 263km winds, the areas being throttled, floods etc. There was even footage sent in by a viewer of a flooded home in Mackay.
But Channel 7 and this journalist in the red raincoat ignored the warnings, including that of their own reportings and footage.
It was during the reporting by one of the women journalists that a comment was made to “look at the sheets of rain moving with the wind and changing direction suddenly…..” With such unpredictability, what was preventing the 270km wind from entering the balconies or pub area outside and scooping up the journalist, dragging them away to certain death?
Later on Tuesday night, I came across a post from Channel 7 FaceBook page of the journalist in the red raincoat which had hundreds of comments. The majority were voicing their disgust at Channel 7 and the journalist and slamming them for their irresponsibility. Some, however, were commenting that it was the journalist’s job to report the weather etc, and for everyone to basically get off his back and that of Channel 7 also.
Let’s think about that for a moment. Is it really a journalist’s job to be deliberately put in harm’s way? Does the station have the right to risk their employee’s lives for a dramatic story and expect them to just accept that as part of their job? While I was viewing the cyclone reports on TV, I heard the journalist in the red rain coat was supposed to be a meteorologist expert. Was that meant to put everyone at ease with the thought that it meant he was safer than the average person due to his knowledge of weather?
My cousin and his family were caught up in Cyclone Debbie on Hamilton Island. They stayed in their hotel room and posted footage on social media of Cyclone Debbie’s wrath. You could very clearly hear the eeriness of the wind through the closed window as well as see the ferocity of the wind outside against the trees bending so severely that their tops were almost touching the ground horizontally. He didn’t need to go outside on the balcony to get a better look or a more sensational video. What he filmed was extremely scary without the drama media tend to add.
What I can’t understand is why TV stations think we want to see one of their journalists standing dangerously in hazardous situations with us holding our breath because we are just waiting for something to fly by and decapitate them. I’d get the same fascination of what is going on inside the storm from behind a closed window. I really don’t fancy witnessing on national TV, someone injured for the sake of ratings.
Let’s face some facts. Journalists are workers no different to any other. They and their loved ones want to go home safe at the end of their working day. Journalists are not emergency workers. They do not work for the Police, Ambulance or Fire Brigade. They are not part of the armed forces. They are not doctors or nurses or SES, or any other type of rescue personnel. It is not an undercover situation where there is an injustice which needs to be exposed and can only be done from the inside. It is not part of their job to be deliberately put in dangerous situations just for ratings or a better scoop on a story over their competitors.
In the case of Cyclone Debbie, it was indeed the journalist’s job to report on the situation, and his knowledge was beneficial in helping the viewer to understand better what was going on. However, it was not the job of the journalist, regardless of his weather expertise, to purposely put himself and others he works with, in a situation where someone else would have to put their own life at risk to rescue any, if not all of them.
Reading this, you may disagree with my view on the journalist, and that is ok. However, anyone who is deliberately being insubordinate against instructions regarding safety in catastrophic and or/dangerous situations, need to be held accountable for their reckless behaviour. The surfers and journalists could have been injured or killed. The fact that they weren’t is, I believe, a miracle.
The law for Reckless Conduct Endangering Life is defined as: A person who, without lawful excuse, recklessly engages in conduct that places or may place another person in danger of death.
Maybe it is time that this law was reviewed and considered seriously for future disasters and catastrophies. Just a thought.