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Anniversary Reflection

Since the emergence of technology and basic broadcasting methods, Americans have turned to different outlets of media (television, news updates via cell phone, social media, etc.,) in order to stay updated on present events. As the years have passed, the focus of different channels has shifted greatly. This was especially evident during mid-September 2017, when Hurricane Maria struck and devastated thousands of residents of Puerto Rico. 

The view from a helicopter over Toa Alta, a town outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 6, 2017.
The view from a helicopter over Toa Alta, a town outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 6, 2017.
source: Andres Kudacki for TIME

In the aftermath of the hurricane, it was established that nearly 200,000 Puerto Ricans emigrated out of their native territory and into other states within the U.S., and that was not including the thousands of impoverished and elderly people remaining that were plunged further into poverty. The effects of the massive relocation also cascaded a series of other events such as schools closing, government services being cut off, and increased difficulty in finding employment. The hurricane was crippling to the entirety of Puerto Rico in every aspect possible, so it is not by any means reasonable that there was so little media coverage surrounding it as compared to Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Harvey. 

It also is not logical that only eleven months after the natural disaster struck, FEMA cut back aid because the “state” of emergency was over, however, it is also true that just five months after the hurricane (February 2018), there were still over 200,000 people left without electricity, running water was not available on the outskirts due to the lack of energy for the pumps, there was an increased crime rate/homicides, and the overall population was entering a state of distress, which could be evident through the increased suicide rates. Furthermore, in the months continuing, the circumstances only continued to worsen. By month 7 post hurricane, public schools continued to close and thousands of people were still left without electricity.

When the statistics of the situation are analyzed and connected to the lack of media coverage, it could be concluded that the lack was due to the fact that enough was not being done to assist Puerto Rican residents. There was no way the media could “spin” the story to make it sound better; simply put, there was not enough being done. There was nothing to broadcast. The residents of a territory not immediately visible to us were just that: out of sight and out of mind. While it could be pointed out that the media failed to cover Hurricane Maria inadequately because it happened shortly after the coverage of two other major hurricanes within the United States (Hurricane Harvey at the end of August 2017 and Hurricane Irma just ten days prior to Maria), this does not excuse the insufficient coverage nor care revolving the catastrophe. 

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Image via JEAN-FRANCOIS Manuel / Shutterstock.com

The media’s inadequacy in addressing the urgency and true tragedy of the situation in Puerto Rico was a direct reflection of the overall attitude towards Puerto Ricans as a whole. Various polls conducted showed that only 54% of Americans were actually aware that people born within Puerto Rico were considered citizens. The disconnect could also be a metaphor of the hostility towards the territory by the United States. As time progressed, the media only strayed further and further from topics pertaining to the crisis and instead focused on irrelevant topics. Personally, I believe that this was done intentionally as a means of diverting attention from the problem and also the fact that so little was being done by the U.S to assist the residents of Puerto Rico. The media consistently failed in educating the general public regarding the severity of the problem at hand, which was completely irresponsible. This only worsened the issue since so many people were unaware, and there was no way for anybody to speak up and get others involved in pressing for further aid to be sent to the victims: either through fundraisers, petitions, or protests for the government to be a more proactive force in helping Puerto Ricans get back on their feet.


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