Chennai Floods: What Decides Media's Narrative Or The Lack Of It?

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The Rains have abated and the state of Tamil Nadu has got a reprieve of 24 hours before another spell of heavy rains. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has announced an allocation of Rs. 500 crore towards relief and rehabilitation. But there is no clarity on the actual toll the floods have taken on the state. This continued lack of information can be blamed to the lack of attention from the national media outlets on the Chennai floods.

BOOM Editor-in-chief Govindraj Ethiraj and a panel of experts discuss the AIADMK state government's response and the naitonal media's coverage of the Chennai floods.

Lakshmi Immanuel, a journalist with The Hindu newspaper points out that many parts of Chennai remain under water. Small to large water bodies are over-flowing. Nevertheless due to the respite from rains, some services are beginning to get back on track. Coverage wise, social media has been the go-to place to inform and also criticize the lack of information from various sources.

Dhanya Rajendran, Managing Editor, The News Minutes seconds Lakshmi’s opinion. She says, “There has been a lot of interest on the digital platform. Social media is the platform where people have pointed out the lack of national media attention to the fate of Chennai residents”.

Siddharth Vardarajan, The Wire: I think that the Chennai floods prove that how the national media is North India centric. Most of the state is under water but there has been barely any coverage of the country’s 3rd largest city reeling under floods. Social media has been the outlet and people have rightly shown their disgust. This lack of media attention also means that the government is not being questioned about the lack of infrastructure or even mis-governance. This debate should have been triggered by the Chennai floods but unfortunately they didn’t.

What are the other casualties due to the lack of news coverage ?

Dhanya Rajendran: The other main casualty is the various kinds of wrong information being spread – especially on instant messaging services. Local TVs do not have the expertise and people are bearing the brunt. The state government knows that they have failed to deliver but there has been no holding to account by any media organization.

Siddharth Vardarajan: One of the reasons could be that local organisations are too small to take on the state government which is very particular and one could easily get slapped with a defamation notice. I collected three of them for innocuous pieces of news during my stint with the Hindu newspaper.

Has the chance also been lost to connect the Chennai weather conditions to a global trend of climate change?

Siddharth Vardarajan: Weather patterns are changing so obviously the Chennai floods are part of that. With the lack of coverage we have barely got to the point where we can talk about the connection.

Dhanya Rajendran: The next step has to be to start talking about paying attention to landscapes and proper planning before another smart city is developed around Chennai. The administration has to be held accountable for the obvious lack of infrastructure to cope with the growing population.

Watch the full debate here.

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