Floods and the Question of Whose Human Suffering is More Newsworthy

You might have heard a lot about some flooding going on in Australia at the moment.

You might not have heard as much about similar flooding going on in Sri Lanka and Brazil. I know I haven’t. I wonder why that might be?

Floods in Australia, Brazil, and Sri Lanka
A comparison of floods in Australia, Brazil, and Sri Lanka using Google News (queried at approximately 9:29pm GMT on 12/01/2011)

I made simple chart, using the Google Hits metric de facto standard, to assess interest in the various stories. Number of hits in the last day is on the primary Y-axis, while reported deaths from the different floods is plotted against the secondary Y-axis.

There are a greater number of reported deaths in Brazil as a result of flooding, but disproportionately little interest when compared to the flooding in Australia. I’d like to think this is just a symptom of the lack of English-speaking journalists present in Brazil at the moment, and my inability to repeat this little experiment in Portuguese. Sri Lanka is an English-speaking country though, so that excuse doesn’t pan out so conveniently.

Hoping for other explanations for the focus on Australia, I tried searching for “area affected” and “economic damage,” but I didn’t get much joy out of that. No info on areas impacted, and estimates on the economic damage for only the Australian flooding.

With no real reporting on those aspects that would make the Australian story bigger, I’m left scratching my head. Surely it can’t be that the pain and suffering of Caucasian people is of greater concern, their stories more interesting, and their lives more valuable? Surely it isn’t that?

Nope. Probably just more Australian bloggers than Brazilian ones, or something totally banal like that.

Sources for death toll figures:

Australia: Reuters
Sri Lanka: Washington Post

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