Within the last few days, it has been a great relief to learn that at least some reprieve has been afforded to firefighters, civilians and animals alike in some areas of Australia affected by the bushfires as a result of intense thunderstorms and powerful rain.
While this news was joyfully reported, we are reminded of the utter lack of reporting which occurred in the early stages of the horrific wildfires. The absence of coverage on global media inspired the hashtag #AustraliaFires on Twitter, which soon spread to other social media sites, as a cry for help and global media attention.
But why was this even necessary? Hundreds of people compared the Australian bushfires to the Amazonian wildfires that occurred a few months ago, which was itself lamented for lack of media coverage in stark contrast to the fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in August 2019. Such a comparison was made in the current context also.
The world was made aware of the Notre Dame catastrophe within three minutes of the Cathedral first igniting whereas it took weeks for the world to truly pay some attention to this Australian tragedy.
One can also note the markedly fewer public declarations of big donations from the super-rich (billionaires). Of course, many Australian celebrities, including Chris Hemsworth who donated $1m to the relief effort, have pledged to donate; Amazon has pledged $1m to support the wildfire victims and Australian billionaires have collectively pledged at least $54m to wildfire relief efforts – but can this really be compared to the billionaires simply queuing up in their droves to help Notre Dame, when £650m was raised in a matter of days? Indeed, the $1m offered by Amazon is less than Jeff Bezos made every five minutes in 2018.
Comedian Celeste Barber criticised billionaires for this seeming double standard: “Remember when Notre Dame burnt down – very sad, don’t get me wrong, RIP Notre Dame, history, building. And something like billions of dollars was raised, by I think a handful of people. Where are those people now?”
What is thought to be causing this lack of coverage and the lack of billionaire donations? One reason might be the classic climate-change controversy in that certain news outlets are reluctant to draw attention to this apparently political debate or to allude to the fact that global warming is, in fact, raring to go – and perhaps billionaires whose businesses have a huge carbon footprint are equally hesitant. Another reason could be the rural and sparsely populated areas which are affected by the fires, in comparison with a well-known landmark in a world-famous city. Maybe this even harks back to an inherent affiliation with concrete historical artefacts and artwork present in the Cathedral and less obviously so in rural Australia. Regardless, one cannot help but note the obvious and potent disparity between the difference in reporting of one tragedy compared to another.
The flawed reasoning for these disparities do not make their consequences any less devastating. As Francis Maxwell pointed out, in relation to the Amazonian fires, but still relevant here: “The difference [between the Notre Dame fires and the Australian bushfires] is, we don’t get to build a new earth. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Photo by eyeweed
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