Sunday, April 18, 2010

And now the conflict enters the picture

Print and broadcast media coverage has taken the turn I expected, as the "volcano" story continues.

The new angle is conflict, as the airlines drop hints that the volcanic ash poses no legitimate danger to travelers, and as a result the flights to, from and within Europe ought to immediately resume. Let's not deny that for the airlines -- already under stress because of global economic changes -- need to get their planes back in service quickly. The longer it takes for that to happen, the more stress these companies will be under; and none of them operates in countries where a generous government bailout or subsidy will be available any time soon.

Attempting to be more patient -- and let's also not deny the pressure they are under -- are the scientists and governmental agencies that must provide the first assurances that the resumption of air travel is not happening too quickly and as a result putting thousands of people in unnecessary danger.

On the sidelines, at least so far, are European governments, which (wisely, if you ask me) have not openly pushed for an immediate resolution to this unusual story. Of course, contingency plans are being examined, and for example Britain with an estimated 200,000 people needing to return to home soil is looking at how to make that happen.

And caught in the middle, as they have been from day one, are the men, women and children who are forced to wait for any indication that they can get to where they want to go. (If you have ever been in this position, even for a day, you know how frustrating this can be. You wonder if you should leave the airport and find a hotel. Or perhaps you should instead grab a rental car and drive to where you need to go. And if you are in a city in which you know no one, the tension is even greater.)

The original angle of media reporting was a combination of fascination and disbelief, as they examined how one volcano -- located in Iceland of all places -- could shut down airline after airline and airport after airport. There were stories that looked at the potential economic problems this event could cause (including, just as one example, Kenya), and you would expect such business-driven stories from media that themselves seek profit. Such stories continued today, including this one from The New York Times.

I would like to see more stories about the people; they are the ones who are the most helpless in this case. Consider that airline executives are not struggling to return to their families, as they wait out the crisis. Journalists are not looking at their housing options, as they report what is taking place. And businesses remain in operation, with employees who have homes to return to each day. But the people in airports or hotels, who wonder when the call to come home will finally be made, are left in a lot of cases with nowhere to go and financial considerations that cannot be ignored.

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