Opinion / Zhu Ping

Disaster reports reveal two sides of new media

By Zhu Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-26 09:19

This will go down as the "darkest week" in aviation history. On July 17, the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in troubled eastern Ukraine claimed 298 lives, six days later 48 people were killed when TransAsia Airways Flight GE222 storm-crashed on Penghu Island in Taiwan, and hours later an Air Algerie-operated flight crashed in restive Mali killing 116 people.

First of all we should mourn the dead and condole their families, because such events sent shockwaves across the world. They also make us want to know the latest. And this is where new media in China, from established Internet portals to the news apps on smartphones, have been playing a vital role. Although they seem to have caught up with developed countries' media giants, their role has been both positive and negative.

The new media, which can tweet news 24 hours a day, kept readers up to date with the latest information on the air tragedies.

Of course, the three air disasters, along with MH370 that went missing with 239 people on board on March 8, should compel the global aviation industry to tighten security and take preventive actions against extreme weather and avoid flying over conflict zones. But the media buzz over the three disasters does not suggest that air travel has become more dangerous. On the contrary, it reflects the rarity of three air tragedies occurring in a week.

Air travel is still safer than road and rail travel. Past decade's figures show that compared with air tragedies, 503 times more people died in road accidents; the ratio was 1:23 for rail accidents. No wonder, people say the most dangerous part of air travel is the drive to the airport.

Psychologist David Myers says it is human nature to irrationally fear things that claim lives in bunches. That is the key reason why the air disasters sent many people into panic. In contrast, smoking doesn't make news in China despite killing more than 1 million every year.

The downing of MH17, however, will have a far-reaching impact on the world and could even trigger a new "Cold War". The US-led West alleges that pro-Russia Ukraine separatists shot down the Malaysian plane and threatens to impose more sanctions on Russia. And Russia says Ukraine should be held accountable for the tragedy.

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