Flight MH370: Has media coverage been over the top?

Posted by: Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen

The extent to which particular disasters become prominent in the news is determined by a complex range of factors. The disappearance of flight MH370 was, by any measure, a spectacular news story. It had drama, it had mystery, and it resonated with popular culture discourses of aeroplane disappearances, as embodied in the popular television series, Lost.

It was also an ongoing and unresolved story – for journalists, a gift that keeps on giving. It was the kind of event which invited other resonant story lines, including ones of terrorism and conspiracy. Because the search for the missing aeroplane quickly came to involve a huge number of actors and countries, it also became a major international news story with reverberations across a globalised media landscape.

One of the factors shaping coverage of disasters – whether “man-made” or “natural” – is what’s called a “calculus of death” at work, based on crude body counts as well as proximities of geography, culture and economics. Plane crashes are typically highly newsworthy, because they involve a larger number of deaths as the result of one discrete incident, as opposed to the ultimately far more significant number of deaths caused by the slow, but constant trickle of automobile accidents.

This post was originally published in The Conversation