A timely reminder of the good that journalism can help to achieve

Two days after the sea wreaked such appalling devastation across the coastlines of Asia, the Media Channel website was suggesting to its international readership: “We in the media must do more than document the devastation. We have the power to mobilise a global response, allowing millions worldwide to come to the aid of those affected in Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, the Maldives, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere.”

It was a perfectly reasonable sentiment. But, for the UK media at least, probably unnecessary. By then, television and newspaper reports were already focusing heavily on the need for aid and the importance of a quick reaction if too many more lives were not to be lost.

And their readers and viewers throughout the country were responding in a truly astonishing way.

Less than seven days after the waves hit, the amount pledged by the British public had exceeded £50m. As this is written it stands at £76million and is expected to eventually top £100m.

The reasons for this unprecedented and extraordinary response are no doubt complicated: the timing of the disaster meant people had more time to contemplate its effects than they usually would; the tourist destinations meant many had direct affinity with the area; and others had relatives who had been affected.

It also helped that the Disasters Emergency Committee had set up a magnificently smooth system to allow easy donations by phone, internet or post.

But what those generous donors all had in common is that they were moved by the reporting of the disaster.

They were influenced and inspired by what they saw on the TV news and what they read in their national and regional newspapers -all of which continue to reinforce the ways in which donations can be made.

The skeleton teams staffing desks at what is traditionally the quietest time of the year reacted superbly to the unfolding tragedy on Boxing Day.

On the days that followed the analysis, the human interest stories, the coverage of the sheer scale of the disaster helped bring home its full impact to so many lives.

At the end of a year when journalism’s stock arguably reached an all-time low, perhaps 2005 might see it rising again by getting the big stories right -as it has with the tsunami.

That might just serve to remind the public of the tremendous good that it can do.

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