This article was updated on January 10, 2005 at 12.50 pm.
As Asia reels from the enormity of the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 150,000 and left millions homeless, the media in the area have responded with sensitivity and generosity.
Local news coverage has been extensive; certain programming has been pulled; some advertising has been blacked out; airtime has been donated to — and money has been collected for — the aid agencies.
For the first 48 hours after the tsunami, news channel BBC World ran rolling news of the disaster and dropped advertising “that might be considered insensitive at the present time,” says Sue Martin, BBC World head of public relations.
Discovery Networks Asia pulled sensitive programming, says veep programming and creative services James Gibbons. “These were either programs that featured natural disasters out of context, or travel shows that featured destinations, mainly beaches, that had been destroyed by the tsunamis,” he says. “We also preempted regular programming to showcase documentary ‘Mega-tsunami: Wave of Destruction,’ which helped our viewers understand the science behind these destructive forces.”
In Australia the Seven, Nine and Ten networks got together for the first time on Jan. 8 to produce and simultaneously broadcast the 150-minute live event “Australia Unites — Reach Out to Asia” in aid of relief org World Vision.
The evening included top Australian musicians and bands performing live from Sydney’s Opera House forecourt.
A live telethon will be held at Melbourne’s Telstra Dome with celebrity guests and news and sports personalities.
Co-executive producers of the event are Seven’s Adam Boland, Nine’s Glenn Pallister and Ten’s Craig Campbell.
“The technical and logistical planning for this appeal is astonishing, with more than 650 crew working behind the scenes around the clock to bring this event to life in less than one week,” the exec producers say in a joint release. “We will all look back on this week’s event as one of our proudest career achievements.”
MTV Asia, well known for its social proactivity on HIV/AIDS awareness, ran an aid agency appeal strap across all its channels in Asia, says David Flack, exec veep of network marketing and creative & content for MTV Networks Asia. At News Corp.’s Hong Kong-based Star Group, senior veep of corporate communications Jannie Poon says its channels “devoted as much airtime as possible to encourage viewers to donate to disaster relief funds.
“Star has produced inhouse public service announcements in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hindi to help raise funds for the organizations involved. We have aired more than 2,000 PSAs across the network since the tsunami. Star News, the 24-hour Hindi news channel, has set up a relief fund.”
Singapore’s MediaCorp pulled the live TV telecast of “The Nation’s Countdown on New Year’s Eve” and used its TV, print and radio platforms to appeal for aid domestically and regionally.
In Europe the biz’s aid efforts are ramping up.
The killer tsunamis, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Sumatra, caused the highest losses of life among European Union citizens since WWII. Several hundred European victims have been identified, and an estimated 5,000 are still missing.
The biggest efforts are in Germany, where pubcaster ZDF’s 2½ hour telethon “Wir wollen helfen — Ein Herz fuer Kinder” (We Want to Help — A Heart for Children), which aired Jan. 4 in primetime, raised a record e40.6 million ($54 million), including Formula One star Michael Schumacher’s $10 million donation.
On Jan. 3, a Sat 1 telethon– “Deutschland hilft” (Germany Helps) — drummed up $14.5 million.
However, charities have criticized German broadcasters, saying one major fund-raiser jointly aired by commercial and pubcasters could have been more efficient in raising donations.
In Spain, broadcaster Antena 3 has inked with telcos Telefonica, Vodafone and Amena for the revenues from a specially set-up SMS messaging facility to be dedicated to the Red Cross.
Pubcaster RTVE will air tsunami disaster special “A Bridge of Solidarity” later this month. RTVE’s spec will focus on international aid program work, with a Unicef rep co-designing the program.
Spanish broadcasters have been criticized in the past for turning out inappropriately glitzy galas to tubthump for disaster funds.
As well as giving wide news coverage, French broadcasters also gave free ad time to humanitarian agencies.
Both commercial webs TF1 and M6 carried fund-raising commercials for the French Red Cross and for Unicef, while M6 has also pledged to match prize money won by quizshow contestants and donate it to aid funds.
After being asked by the French government, French mobile telephone operators Bouygues Telecom, SFR and Orange sent text messages to their clients in a bid to trace survivors of the disaster. The three operators also raised more than $1.3 million in aid via a “Text Message for Asia” appeal.
By Jan. 5 an estimated $114 million in aid had been raised in France, and the charity Doctors Without Borders took the unusual step of saying it needed no more donations.
Italian media outlets launched individual campaigns for tsunami relief.
TV news shows hosted by pubcaster RAI and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset have raised about $6 million for agencies working in the area.
In the U.K. audiences for news programs surged as extended bulletins and additional programs were slotted into the schedules.
From Dec. 20 to Jan. 2, 7.8 million people watched Sky News’s tsunami coverage at some point while 8.9 million tuned into BBC News 24. The channel’s normal reach is 3.9 million.
BBC news topper Roger Mosey said covering the tsunami was one of the largest news efforts ever undertaken by the network as news personnel were dispatched on an unprecedented scale.
The pubcaster has pulled a big-budget disaster movie about a volcano erupting in Yellowstone National Park from the schedules of BBC flagship web BBC1 because of sensitivities over the tsunami disaster.
“Super Volcano,” co-produced with Discovery, ProSieben, Mediaset and NHK and skedded to air in late January, was to have been a linchpin of BBC1’s winter schedule.
Meanwhile, in Canada, broadcaster Chum declared Jan. 5 Chum Disaster Relief Day on its 32 radio and 33 TV stations, with a fund-raising campaign in association with the Canadian Red Cross that raised a total of C$3.2 million ($2.59 million).
Pubcaster CBC is planning a national broadcast of a fundraising telethon featuring rocker Tom Cochrane and an as-yet undisclosed line-up of Canuck musicians, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 13.
CanWest’s Global Television is giving away airtime for tsunami relief PSAs, and the company’s customer center in Winnipeg is taking overflow calls for the Canadian Red Cross.
And CTV is planning a benefit concert to air Jan. 29 and 31 starring Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne and Sara McLachlan.
(Magz Osborne in Singapore, Ed Meza in Berlin, John Hopewell in Spain, Alison James in Paris, Cecilia Zecchinelli in Milan and Steve Clarke in London contributed to this report.)