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Opinion – Puerto Rico’s hurricane deserves more coverage

Last week, Puerto Rico was without safe drinking water or electricity, but blanket news coverage of Queen Elizabeth IIs funeral has raised questions about how networks should prioritise their content.

On Monday last week, hurricane Fiona left Puerto Rico without drinking water or power. By the early hours of Tuesday, two people had died.

Heavy rain destroyed large swathes of Puerto Rican land, with forecasters predicting it to continue for several days.

The island then dealt with up to 30 inches of rainfall, which increases the risk of flash floods, landslides, and the destruction of urban areas.

A 58-year-old man was killed after the water of an overflowing river swept him away. Another man, just 30, died in a generator fire.

Hurricane Fiona has devastated the country just days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria – a category 5 storm that Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from.

President Biden declared a national emergency in the US territory, and the National Guard has deployed 600 soldiers throughout Puerto Rico.

These statistics are shocking, not least because you may be hearing them for the first time.

News coverage of the event – specifically in the US and the UK – has been piecemeal. Instead, Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral blanketed major networks for the entirety of Monday.

Though it may be a landmark historical moment for Britain, the Queen’s passing has minimal news value.

After a 10 day mourning period, in which social media, television, and digital billboards have been consumed by it, it’s safe to assume virtually everyone in the UK – and much of the Western world – is aware of Elizabeth II’s death.

But hurricane Fiona is – as many have pointed out – a huge ongoing news story. Hundreds of thousands are suffering with minimal help from the international community.

Ana Navarro, a Nicaraguan American political strategist, criticised the blanket coverage of the Queen’s funeral on Monday.

‘Folks, I respect the Queen as much as the next person. I offer my condolences to the Brits and all who loved her,’ she shared in a tweet.

‘But can I please get some news and footage of the effects of Fiona on Puerto Rico? For those who need reminding, they are American citizens in distress.’

Luma Energy, the island’s operator, said on Monday that some areas will take days before power is reconnected.

Flights out of the country’s main airport have been cancelled, and several ports and roads closed. The island has been veritable cut off from the outside world.

Yet despite the devastation, some are supporting major news outlets for prioritising the royal funeral in their coverage.

Jonathan Bernstein argued that while Hurricane Fiona is deserving of air time, news outlets should be cognisant of their audience.

‘I am […] prepared to defend the general indulgence of America’s fascination with the British royals, even in the face of more obviously urgent and important news’ he stated in a Bloomberg opinion post.

However, Bernstein’s comments clearly don’t speak for the masses he had hoped they would.

While major outlets continue to lament the Queen’s death, churning out endless spins on the same story, social media has lit up with debate about what we consider ‘news worthy’.

Besides backlash about the cost of the royal funeral – which is set to rack up more than $7.5m at a time when Brits are struggling to navigate a cost of living crisis – online comments have criticised its coverage after struggling to find information about hurricane Fiona on major news channels.

In an earlier tweet, Navarro spoke for many of those feeling wearied by the endless talk of a royal death, during swathes of other pressing – and disheartening – news stories.

‘I wish I could watch the Queen’s funeral without so much commentary. It’s been 11 days of endless royal talk. Makes it hard to focus on the solemnity of the ceremony. Glad she’s finally going to rest in peace’.

Sadly, the solemnity of Puerto Rico’s suffering is hard to grasp for quite the opposite reason.

Let’s hope those who have lost their lives, and continue to struggle in the face of natural disaster, receive the peace and well-wishes we have granted the royal family for the past 10 days.

 

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