Muddled Words Aren’t Enough

How Newsworthy is a Filipino Death?

High Contrast Newspaper, by GiantsFanatic, with Creative Commons licenceAs the days pass it’s becoming increasingly difficult to accept the lack of accurate media coverage surrounding the mysterious death of Vicenta Flores here in Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post is still the only news outlet covering the story, today producing an article that suggests police are developing a sense of how Vicenta disappeared. I hope that’s true. But it’s difficult to judge the whether the article is reliable, given that only last week the SCMP reported the case already closed.

An important question to ask is whether all of the informants tapped by reporter Mary Ann Benitez actually know what is happening in the case, and whether she SCMP sub-editors understands exactly what they those sources are saying. In this morning’s article, Benitez first cites un-named “sources” as saying that Vicenta attempted to catch a bus in the Tung Chung district, on the opposite side of Lantau island from where she lived, just an hour before she died. The woman was refused entry for lack of a fare. Benitez then writes that “police said” Vicenta was seen in Tung Chung, and was seen in a bus near the Tung Chung Development Pier.

Eye witness accounts can be confusing, but is this one sighting, two sightings or three sightings?

[Mary Ann Benitez has clarified this point – there was only one sighting and one bus, but multiple sources.]

An interesting but less important point to note is that the police didn’t ‘say’ anything – they issued a statement, as Benitez later reveals. It probably isn’t a surprise that none of the articles she has written or co-written on this story have made the SCMP’s front page.

But what has made the front page? Now that’s an interesting and important question. The answer today is revealing. At the bottom of the page Clifford Lo reports a tragic double death; a 78 year old man who died of shock when told by telephone that his 34 year old son had been badly crushed by a falling concrete slab. The younger man had already died by the time the phone call was made.

Hands, by Steven Fernandez, with Creative Commons licenceA tragedy yes, and a painful reminder that life itself is ever dangerous. But why wasn’t this reported on the inside pages near news of Vicenta Flores’ sad passing? It could be a case of two deaths outperforming one for newsworthiness, but there’s an added element. Both men were local Chinese.

I’ve written before about mainland Chinese deaths receiving far less news coverage than similar American deaths. Now there’s a third element in the ratio – a Filipino death rates far lower again.

It’s a puzzling world.

Addendum: The above changes were made after I spoke to Mary Ann Benitez at a public meeting in Discovery Bay last night. Our opinions differ very much on the clarity of the article as published, but I thank her for answering my question about the number of sightings.

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