Odisha’s distress and response largely ignored by media, ridiculed on social media

Updated 4:35 PM, 18 July, 2019
The cylone as per a recent government report has caused massive damage to the districts of Puri, Khurda and Cuttack among others.

They wear Odisha’s Ikat sarees to TV shows, make a beeline at the Odisha Chief Minister’s residence to quiz him about his fitness regimen, badger other Odias on the state’s incompetence to do justice to the ‘Dana Majhis’ of Odisha, and never spare a moment to sensationalise the purported ‘war over Rasagola’.

But when it comes to a disaster, Odisha for the national media is perhaps a ‘poor state’ that is highly lauded for its disaster preparedness and resilience, but nonetheless left to fend for itself. Thoughts like these on the poor coverage of the after-effects of Cyclone Fani in Odisha by the national media – barring a few – and an equally apathetic response from other states, have been haunting thousands of Odias, especially when the state is fighting to get back to normalcy in the wake of the devastating cyclone.

Odisha, where’s that?

While many on social media have criticised the national media for its step-motherly attitude towards covering the cyclone in Odisha, when compared to the floods in Kerala and Chennai, in the initial days, or the 2005 Mumbai floods, newspapers like Hindustan Times completely omitted Odisha in their reportage of Fani. After facing flak on social media, the editor of Hindustan Times apologised on Twitter on the blunder, which he also said was “small consolation”. “I am sorry that the flap (page 1 plus of HT) left out Odisha in the intro, which is a huge blunder. The front page of the paper says it correctly, but that’s small consolation.”

Massive damage to communication and power infrastructure in the state has made it impossible for many outside the state to get in touch with their families in Odisha. Although Odia channels have been extensively covering the cyclone, a lack of interest by the national media towards covering a disaster such as this may be dubbed ‘utterly insensitive’.

“While UN and international media are lauding Odisha’s preparedness and timely action in battling the devastating #Fani, it is heart-breaking to see the level of negligence and ignorance of Indian media towards it. Seems people need to die in masses to draw attention of Indian media, else it’s not worth a coverage! I remember how huge the focus on Kerala floods was last year which led to timely support from various mediums. But the battle for restoration looks a hugely tough one for Odisha,” says Lipsita Badajena, a resident of Cuttack who works as an HR professional at an MNC in Bengaluru.

“As someone who stays outside Odisha, I had anxious moments trying to contact family members. As there were no reports on the cyclone on national channels, I relied mostly on local news to get information, but they too went down after 12 pm on the day of the cyclone. Luckily I-phone networks weren’t down yet, I contacted my family through WhatsApp. By Lord Jagannath’s grace, everyone in Bhubaneswar is safe. But there is still no power or water supply,” says Pratyush Jena, a resident of Bhubaneswar, who works as a banker in Hyderabad.

Not funny

What has riled many Odias is the insensitivity with which jokes, memes and parodies on Fani are being circulated on social media. A poem titled ‘Finding Fani’ goes about saying, “Where are you Fani dear, waited home all day at home with fear” and ends with “You have not reached us, I am aghast, bye bye Fani dear, I will go out and have some beer”.

Voting done and dusted in Odisha. Or is it not fashionable to talk about the severe after effects of the calamity there. Please ponder! Would it be the same if it was not Odisha and some other state? -Sujata Trivedi Bagchi, Kolkata resident

“Voting done and dusted in Odisha. Or is it not fashionable to talk about the severe after effects of the calamity there. Please ponder! Would it be the same if it was not Odisha and some other state? Odisha has rebuilt herself before and shall do so again but is it not high time we as a nation show some heart and spine! Time to go beyond the usual optics!” wrote Sujata Trivedi Bagchi, a resident of Kolkata, who has grown up in Odisha, on her Facebook feed in response to the jokes and poor media coverage of the cyclones.

Others were peeved over the usage of adjectives in the coverage of cyclones by the national and international media.  “Sometimes media terminology hurts too. A New York Times report praised Odisha’s evacuation efforts, but referred to it as a “poor state”. Why call it a poor state? They could have used another adjective, say like capable, determined or ascertained state,” says Prasanta Bhunya, an Odia based in Toronto.

No casualty, no news

Many dubbed the media apathy as a result of a lack of spice to the story. “No one knew better than the mainstream media that Odisha government was going to do a great job in rescuing its people. In fact the government has already demonstrated its capabilities during the past couple of cyclones. So if there is no death, there is no news. For mainstream media, nothing sells more than human casualty – whether it is in cross-border firing or in a natural calamity. Then why would a national TV channel burn resources to cover an almost zero-casualty cyclone when it can cover some empty chest-thumping and some buffoon’s stupid speeches during election rallies and earn more TRP?” says Narasingh Rao, a freelance journalist in Ganjam district.

“What’s the reason behind this ‘apathy’? Showing people that a regional party’s government in a poor state has been able to achieve what many better-off states have unfortunately not been able to in the past wouldn’t do much good to the image of the national parties, particularly when elections are underway,” he adds.

Help and campaigns

Even as the state governments of Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have donated ₹10 crore each, Odisha government sources say more help is yet to reach the state (as of the morning of May 5). “Most of the work is being done by government agencies and NGOs. Students and political parties in Odisha are also collaborating in relief and restoration work. The collector’s offices are working with village level volunteers. Individuals and local groups in cities have sprung into action since yesterday (May 4) to provide food and clothing. We are yet to receive help from outside,” says Bibhuti Bhusan Routray, a strategic communications consultant at the Chief Minister’s Office, Odisha.

The furore on social media over the negligence towards the state, has fuelled several organisations to campaign for relief measures. Organisations like SBI and Paytm have started campaigns to collect funds for cyclone victims, while media channels like Red FM and Sony TV are urging people to donate to the Odisha Chief Minister’s relief fund (http://www.cmrfodisha.gov.in).

“The Odisha Society of America targets to collect 10,0000 dollars and the Toronto Odia Community is trying to collect as much as it can for the cyclone victims through GoFundMe campaign. I would say, in this time of need the media needs to stand with people as well as the government to synchronise workforce. At this point, criticism, politics and partiality, need to be avoided. But I see our social media intellectuals more busy in posting photos than helping the poor in this time of crisis. Media should carry success stories of dedication, help, sacrifice and bravery during Fani,” says Prasanta Bhunya.