Chile rescue: Media phenomenon

2010-10-15 11:42
Washington - The nail-biting and ultimately joyful rescue of 33 men from deep in a Chilean mine gripped the world's imagination like few events of the past decade with wall-to-wall media coverage drawing comparisons to the September 11 attacks and the 2008 US presidential election.

Television stations around the globe devoted hours of non-stop live air time to the rescue, Facebook and Twitter users furiously swapped stories about the miners and newspapers thousands of miles away made them a front-page story.

Human drama

"It's the sort of story that people like," said Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Boston's Northeastern University, seeking to explain the fascination of the media and the public with the fate of the miners.

"It's a human drama and it had a happy ending," Kennedy said. "I think the media just wanted to be a part of that. They thought it would improve ratings and it did."

Kennedy cited the September 11 attacks, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the 2008 presidential election won by Barack Obama and the BP oil spill as recent events which attracted similar doses of media coverage in the United States.

Unified the world

USA Today compared the worldwide appeal to that of "the most gripping reality TV show you've ever seen".

"The rescue of 33 miners from what had seemed like their tomb below the Chilean desert was the culmination of a mythic tale of death and resurrection that briefly unified the world in awed delight," it said.

In the United States, cable news networks devoted hours of live coverage to the rescue bid and CNN saw its late night ratings soar as the first miner was plucked from the ground in the "Phoenix" capsule.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the EU capital Brussels for a NATO summit, admitted she was riveted by the heroic operation.

"With the time change, that made it even harder, but I couldn't look away," she told ABC's Good Morning America.

Increased viewership

Tim Miller, senior foreign editor at Sky News, told AFP the British network "presented the whole day from Chile and not once did we come back to London, which is rare for us".

"It was a good news story with raw emotion," he said. "We had five times our normal Wednesday viewership."

In Germany, news channel N24 said it carried 17 hours of non-stop live coverage of the rescue, earning its third-best audience share ever, beaten only by Michael Jackson's July 2009 funeral and the July 2007 Live Earth concert.

In Spain, Diego de la Serna, assignment chief for 24-hour news channel CNN Plus, said the station dedicated about 75 percent of its programming time to the mine rescue and sent its own correspondent to the site.

"It was similar in character to the coverage we gave to the North American elections," he said. CNN Plus mounted larger operations only for this year's World Cup, won by Spain, and the March 2008 Spanish general elections.

Uninterrupted footage

Spain's all-news Canal 24 went live for four or five hours and would cut back to the mine each time a miner surfaced.

"We haven't spent as much time live on a single subject since the Spanair accident," presenter Alejandra Herranz said, referring to the August 2008 crash at Madrid airport which left 154 people dead.

In South Korea, the YTN news channel said it dedicated more time to the rescue than it had to any other foreign news event since the September 11 attacks.

France's all-news i-TELE channel broadcast 31 hours of uninterrupted live footage, its longest ever.

In Japan, television broadcasters alternated between live coverage, special programs about the event and a tense debate in the Japanese parliament.

In the Philippines, all-news television channel ABS-CBN cut to live coverage every time a miner emerged from the rescue tube.

Social networking sites

When television stations were not broadcasting live pictures from the mine, many, like Sweden's SVT, the BBC and others, provided a continuous live stream on their websites.

On Twitter, "Chilean miner" was still a top trending topic on Thursday while a popular Web search on Google was for "miners mistress" - an allusion to an emotional tug-of-war over a miner between two women.

Facebook spokesperson Andrew Noyes said internal statistics showed that as the first miner emerged, users in Chile were posting 478 stories per minute to the social networking site and 1 265 stories per minute in the United States.

Germany's Die Welt newspaper summed up the coverage. "Nearly a billion people followed the rescue by Internet, on the radio or the television," it said. "A day of joy for Chile became one for the whole world." publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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