Monday, May 11, 2009

Won't somebody please think of the...pandas?

Pandas are cute. No doubt about it. But kids are surely also worth a story.

Why then are there so many stories about how pandas are faring since the devastating earquake that tore China's Sichuan province apart this time last year?

Even at the time of the quake there were articles about how pandas in Chengdu had to be rescued, along with tourists who were airlifted out of national parks in the wake of the disaster. Thousands of people were buried under collapsed schools and we were reading about bears.

Pandas, a species apparently determined to drive themselves to extinction by refusing to copulate, still seem to attract greater attention than the Chinese children killed in the massive earthquake.

Something like 90,000 people perished on May 12 last year - although the exact figure is impossible to guess at - and the story lasted about a week. Similarly, the tens of thousands of people who died in Mayanmar (Burma) last year are entirely forgotten.

China and (to an even greater extent) Mayanmar have not helped by curtailing media freedom in the area, but if you compare the coverage of the Tiananmen Square anniversary next month to the way the Sichuan earthquake is marked this week, I'm sure the coverage will be wildly disproportionate.

Not to mention the obsession with 9/11 and other atrocities which affected a fraction of the numbers killed and maimed in China on "5/12".

Obvioulsy, it's not a competition and news media are right to attach greater significance to man-made tragedies, but the way the Sichuan earthquake fell out of the news in the Western media is quite shocking.

But whatever about comparing human tragedies, worrying about cuddly-looking bears is simply disrespectful to human life.