COMMENTS: Irrawaddy Delta Blues

The devastation wreaked by Cyclone Nargis in the Bay of Bengal over the weekend was the Story of the Day. The storm came ashore with 120mph over the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar but because of the restrictions of its ruling military junta, there were few video images available and none of the networks had permission to report from there: ABC filed from Bangkok; CBS from Tokyo; NBC from the White House. With such sparse information, only ABC decided to lead with the disaster. NBC chose the continuing increases in the cost of crude oil while CBS led from Indiana on the eve of its Presidential primary election.

"There is no power. There is no drinking water. There is no food," that is how ABC's Nick Schifrin (no link) summarized the plight of tens of thousands of Burmese. He reported that the cyclone had flooded many rice farms with salt water and that Buddhist monasteries had been turned into makeshift shelters. "Roads were not that good to begin with," CBS' Barry Petersen pointed out. "Now many are just gone." He quoted estimates of the homeless population as exceeding 90,000. The known death toll is 4,000 so far but "what worries the United Nations is a second wave of catastrophe, " ABC's Schifrin warned, "that days after the storm left, hunger, thirst and disease can kill countless more."

From the White House, NBC's John Yang noted that First Lady Laura Bush, the administration's "main critic of Myanmar's oppressive military regime," was assigned as its spokesperson on the disaster. She blasted the junta for its failure to broadcast warnings before the storm hit and for its subsequent refusal to allow entry to international aid teams. As for the military response on the ground, ABC's Schifrin reported that in some areas "soldiers are helping to clean up but residents say they are largely absent--this in a country where the military presence is always felt."


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