Numbness and sensitivity in a globalized world

15-01-2005

At the end of last year a significant part of our planet was hit by an apocalyptic disaster. The world media immediately focused their interest on the region. Now, three weeks after the catastrophe, the media are still informing us about the event and its consequences, although the subject is slowly receding from the papers' front pages.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK When we heard the first news about several thousand dead we were shocked. As the numbers of victims quickly rose to tens of thousands, we were deeply shocked. Now, we know that at least 160 thousand people lost their lives. We are gradually getting used to these numbers, and it is sad to say it, but we are beginning to view them as mere statistics.

The media of all countries have focused above all on their own compatriots in the region. The first news on the Czech TV covering the disaster asked about the fate of several Czech pop stars who were spending their holidays in the region. Probably it is understandable that we want to know first of all about things that are closer to us, which are more familiar, but on the other hand, it seems inappropriate to focus on a few of dozen tourists, when there are hundreds of thousands of other people suffering. I have asked myself this question many times when reporting about the events on Radio Prague.

But every medium has its own perspective, and perhaps our Czech obsession with our own compatriots is no surprise. But regardless of all this provincialism, we have to acknowledge that the attention raised by media has caused an enormous amount of solidarity all around the world.

Czechs are not used to disasters of this sort. Central Europe is not a seismic region. There are no earthquakes of any significance in the Czech Republic. Also other catastrophes, like tornados or hurricanes, are almost unknown here. It was only in recent years, when the Czech Republic was hit by the biggest floods for centuries, that Czechs learned that they are not immune to freaks of nature.

Perhaps it was also this experience - combined with the huge media coverage, which informed about relatively large numbers of Czech tourists affected by the Asian disaster - that helped to encourage people to give money to help.

Watching the media coverage of the Asian catastrophe, I sometimes have the impression that everything is getting more and more relative in the globalized world. It seems that we perceive events and people's destinies, which are far from us, only as numbers and statistics. They become more relevant only if a well-known pop star or a number of our compatriots are affected. On the other hand, if this aspect of globalisation is able to contribute to such a huge amount of solidarity expressed by people all around this planet, there is no reason to be pessimistic.

15-01-2005