TV, radio quick to respond
The Nation, Published on March 30, 2005

Barely had the tremors of an 8.7-magnitude underwater earthquake off western Sumatra died down Monday night when the media rumbled into action. News alerts of a potential tsunami started flooding the airways shortly after 11.10pm.

All six national television stations and The Nation Channel snapped into live reports. Newsreaders repeatedly advised viewers in southern coastal provinces battered by the December 26 tsunami to stay alert and get ready to dash for higher ground.

“If you notice the seawater reced-

ing abnormally fast, please immediately evacuate to a safe place” – it was a message being replayed again and again. The earthquake had been powerful enough to send ripples through southern Thailand, prompting the Meteorological Department to issue an official warning for immediate evacuation in dangerous coastal zones.

Channel 3 and iTV wasted no time in cancelling their scheduled programming in favour of dedicating their airtime solely to developments in the South. As patients at Sikharin Hospital in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district were being evacuated, cameras were rolling.

Although initially iTV reacted somewhat more slowly to news of the earthquake than other channels, once it did, the channel did not even allow room for scheduled commercial breaks while it was airing on-location accounts from its reporters in Phuket as well as phone-in commentaries by experts and officials.

Numerous reporters were already in Phuket at the time of the earthquake, covering as they were commemorative events on the 100th day after the deadly tsunami. This enabled wide-scale live reporting at the press of a button.

Foreign news channels like CNN and BBC also turned to immediate live coverage of the earthquake’s social aftershocks. Several segments of video clips filed live by their local correspondents got plenty of airtime on Thai television channels as well.

On Channel 9, talk-show host Sorrayuth Suthassanajinda interrupted his highly rated “Theung Look Theung Khon” current event talk show to relay news of the earthquake, urging his audience to stay alert of developments. Later he resumed his conversation with his guest, a pregnant woman who said she had been raped by an MP, yet even so “Theung Look Theung Khon” continued running text updates of the quake’s aftermath across the bottom of the screen.

On Channel 5 in turn, news of the earthquake cut short the live music show “Five Live” by half an hour. Producers at Channel 7, however, decided to interrupt their normal programming only long enough to intersperse it with occasional updates of the quake’s aftermath. Yet even the UBC cable channels felt the renewed tsunami scare warranted a text message across the bottom of the screen.

Radio listeners did not have to go without news alerts, either. The Jor Sor 100 radio station was broadcasting eyewitness reports live on air from callers in the South. Even the Sports Radio station felt inclined to do some reporting on the earthquake.

However, by 2am – almost three hours after the quake hit – the danger of another killer tsunami had abated and experts gave the official all-clear. With that, media outlets wound down their reportage, allowing their viewers and listeners to turn in for the night at last without the need to worry about another aquatic calamity.

Sucheera Pinijparakarn

The Nation