Thai cave rescue: when the media became emotional

BY NUPUR BASU| IN Media Practice | 12/07/2018
Reporters hugged and smiled, TV anchors cheered on air, Zain Asher in the studio said “Here in CNN we have all just been singing!!”
NUPUR BASU reports


“All 12 Wild Boars and their coach have left the cave !” said an official communiqué from the Thai rescue team chief on July 10 evening.

The world’s media waiting for over a fortnight at the Chiang Rai cave in Thailandbroke into a loud cheer and beamed the same to their respective news organisations with uncharacteristic emotion. This was a “happy ending” story they had longed for days and they were going to wear their heart on their sleeve for this one .

Coming on the heels of another story emanating recently from the US where migrant children were separated from their parents which so far has evaded a happy ending, this incredible story of rescue of 12 teenage soccer players from the depths of a submerged cave into which they had fallen along with their coach, their final rescue and their reunion with their parents,  was a total contrast.

With over a million pictures having been shared worldwide the Thai cave rescue mission was the stuff of any ace Hollywood thriller and it had gripped the world. Even Indian television channels like NDTV picked up in-depth coverage on the cave on prime time . That there was finally a light at the end of the cave gave journalists a reason to celebrate a story with a happy ending, and came as a huge bonus.

Clearly overwhelmed with relief minutes after the ‘áll out and safe’ announcement Martin Patience of BBC reporting from the cave site said : “A huge cheer has gone up as the football team is back with their coach ..there is jubilation and celebration as the boys have come home !”

Matt Rivers of CNN International said on air : “I have never seen so many journalists smile at the same time – it was kind of weird ”

“Indeed this was the headline that everyone was waiting for” exclaimed Poppy Harlow, anchor of CNN International.

Ivan Watson, CNN International confessed : “ I have a lump in my throat…to have your pessimist instincts proved wrong is great !”

Ivan was seen hugging his local CNN Thai correspondent Kocha on air and had the anchor comment “There are lots of hugs going around and then turning to her correspondents said : “you are allowed all the hugs in the world and there are going to be many more hugs all around after this brilliant end”.

Earlier Kocha was reporting how everybody in Thailand had been “living on this news” for the last 18 days - “The first thing they would get up in the morning, they would inquire about the fate of the boys …it was captured on all news networks.” She reported how they received support from so many quarters in the world…including the ‘sparrow nest pickers’ as they tried to find alternate routes to the cave to explore ways to bring the boys out – “They tried to find the routes that sparrows take through chimneys as they believed that there were some chimneys near the cave where the boys were trapped ! It was simply incredible the effort from everyone. Everyone knew their jobs and the chain of command was very clear.”

Robin Curnow, anchor, CNN International was then heard telling her correspondent: “Ivan it has been such an emotional moment for all of you..”

Twelve young soccer players and their young coach called the Wild Boar Soccer Team had gone missing in the Chiang Rai cave in Thailand since June 21.. On July 7 a British diver discovered them inside the rocky cave with swirling muddy water around. The world had watched incredulously on their TV screens the young football players waving to the cameras from deep inside the cave. They were alive. And there was hope. What began over the next eight days was an incredible rescue mission covered day upon day by the waiting media. It finally ended around 5.30 pm IST on July 10 with the last of the team taken out of the cave.

The reporters were unanimous that it was rare to get a good ending story like this. BBC anchor Matthew Amroliwala described the rescue as “news that defied all odds”.

BBC correspondent Dan Johnson reporting from the hospital site said “We felt the relief wash over us in layers as the last boy was moved in the ambulance to the hospital …the boys and their endurance had left us with admiration international divers handled the whole episode with care and delicacy and solved the puzzle. They considered all the risks and had a successful conclusion and now the celebrations can begin !” He reminded the viewers that this was indeed an incredible effort of human endeavour as the boys had their first experience of scuba diving.

Zain Asher in the studio said “Here in CNN we have all just been singing!!” Normally before a programme I prepare and do research my questions..but just now when I came on air, I was just so emotional ..I did not prepare anything”.

Over a million pictures were taken during the rescue period and the Thai authorities urged the people of Thailand to use those pictures to promote Thailand! They also had a joke at the media’s expense after thanking them for all their support : “ Maybe it would have been better if they had moved out the waiting media from the spot of the rescue on day one itself, they could have completed their task even earlier !”

Remarkable was a word used incessantly during the coverage. There were other expressions like - It was a miracle ! A mission impossible made possible, incredible herculean effort , professional, brave , celebrating hope, volunteerism , organisation , resiience, meditation, mindfulness – a miracle or science or what ? etc..used to describe the emotional roller coaster of the rescue effort.

On Channel News Asia Thai officials were talking about the “power of love” which had made this mission successful. Thailand and the world should take its lessons from it, they said. Their comment that the cave would become a tourist spot in the future was not seen as an appropriate one by several of the journalists reporting from ground zero as the trauma of recent days was still too fresh. Promoting tragedy tourism didn’t seem the appropriate flavour of the moment.

Dr Sanjay Gupta health correspondent of CNN International observed: “It’s been a long unpredictable journey. It is important now to monitor closely what kind of shape they are in whether malnourished, suffering from hyperthermia, psychological trauma…while youth and the fact that they were soccer players does give resilience..but having stayed for days without light in the caves and suffered claustrophobia.”The trapped Chilean miners who were rescued nine years ago still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) journalists interviewing them recently had found.

But the manner in which the Thai government had allowed the rescue to be handled won praise from all media. They talked about how Thailand had not been on an ego trip and allowed others from different countries to help – and had fostered a strong sense of community. There were 90 expert divers who worked on the rescue mission – of these 40 were Thai divers and 50 were from abroad. Overall an astounding 10,000 personnel were involved in the effort. The British diver who first spotted the boys and the Thai diver who tragically lost his life in the rescue mission received high praise. The Thai diver who had given his life to save the boys was declared a national hero whose sacrifice would never be forgotten, the media reported.

A video from Spring News, Thailand beamed on CNN the day after the rescue showed some of the boys lying in the hospital waving to camera just as they had done inside the cave. More videos released by the Thai Navy Seals showing how the boys were brought out showed just how heavy the odds were against the mission. “This is one of the world’s greatest stories of survival” commented CNN’s Matt Rivers.

A story that began terribly and ended spectacularly - the 18 - day ordeal had taken a huge psychological toll on everyone including the media that was covering this monumental rescue operation. They deserved their big smile at the end.


(Nupur Basu is a senior journalist and a documentary filmmaker)

The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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