Sunday, June 26, 2011

What We Need for Disaster Reporting

Last week, on June 13 - 15, our project facilitated a workshop and focused group discussion on disaster reporting for Aceh journalists. Apparently, seven years after the massive Indian Ocean tsunami, very little attention have been given to the knowledge-sharing on disaster issues to the journalists in Aceh.

In my opinion, this happened because 1) Most organizations working in Aceh focuses more on government/policy makers and what so-called grassroot communities, that the layer in between those two received less attention. Journalists and media are somewhere between policy makers and common people, and 2) Most of us here took it for granted, that the journalists are the know-all persons. As an ex journalist myself, I know that we interviewed many people, we heard behind-the-stage stories, and we read a lot. However, it takes a quite intensive training on a certain issue to get into the depth of a topic and to see and report that very issue from different angles.

In that previous workshop and FGD, almost all of the 15 journalists whom we invited admitted that they had not heard about disaster risk reduction, had never heard such detailed information on the hazards in Aceh, and had never had sufficient trainings on disaster issues. Even though some organizations such as UNDP and HIVOS have organzed some disaster journalism-related trainings, those were not yet intensive and systematic enough to build a solid consensus that lead to the actions on how a good disaster journalism should be.

Until now, there is no specific guidance on disaster reporting published or agreed by journalist community and networks here. In Indonesia, the breakthrough of thoughts on the skills and ethics in disaster reporting happened last year after Ahmad Arif, a journalist from Kompas, the biggest national newspaper, wrote a book titled "Jurnalisme Bencana, Bencana Jurnalisme" (literally translated as "Disaster Journalism, Journalism's Disaster"), where he reviewed how media corporation and journalists in Indonesia reacted to disasters, how they worked in disaster-affected areas, and how they reported those disasters. The book is loaded with auto-criticism, that have opened many journalists' eyes on how dangerous their reporting practices have been, and how much they should learn to be able to write contextual, in-depth disaster reports. The book, and the many discussions on it have inspired some journalists in Aceh develop a guidance that should cover the aspects of journalists' preparedness, journalistic skills, journalism ethics, media management.

After a one-day of workshop with our disaster experts from Indonesian Geologist Association and from the Indonesian Science Institute, and with a senior investigative journalism expert, an FGD was held to gather journalists inputs on how a disaster reporting should be. The following is the summary of the discussions, that I hope would be useful for other journalists/media management all over the world:

The journalists first discussed the challenges that they encounter in disaster reporting:
1. Journalists do not have sufficient information to cover disaster
2. There is no standard operating procedures to cover disaster
3. Lack of personal, editorial, and corporate planning. Lack of equipments and logistics.
4. Limited knowledge on disaster.
Based on those considerations, they discussed what journalists and media management team and editor should do before, during, and after disaster from operational, management, skill, and ethical sides.

Before disaster, the participants agreed that media must/should:
1. Posses maps of disaster prone areas
2. Have the standard operating procedures (SOP) in disaster reporting assignment
3. Provide trainings to their journalists on techniques and ethics in disaster reporting. Participants also agreed that the media company should allow their journalists to participate in trainings conducted by the third party.
4. Provide the opportunity for a sustainable DRR education
5. Identify the disaster/hazards around them and in their work areas
6. Provide special fund for disaster incidents
7. Prepare special desk for disaster issues
8. Posses the contacts/roster of disaster-related resource persons
9. Insure their journalists

On the management side, journalist should:
1. Possess sufficient preparedness (reporting cost, accommodation, camera, tape recorder, satellite phone)
2. Prepare personal needs (charger, first aid kit, enough/sufficient clothing, personal sanitary and toiletries needs, sleeping bag, food and supplemental drinks. Those should be kept in emergency bags)
3. Put the safety of their families first, including deciding the evacuation check points for their families

On the skill side, every journalist should:
1. Possesses sufficient knowledge on disaster issues, including the geological and archaeological histories, laws and other regulations related to disaster. They should continuously enrich their knowledge on disaster information by reading, learning, and writing about disaster issues.
2. Know the reliable information sources on/related to disaster issues, including a roster of resource persons, and access to significant stakeholders.
3. Be able to identify the evacuation sites, including having a sound knowledge on evacuation signs and routes
4. Ensure their personal and family safety
5. Share the disaster knowledge and information with their family and closest environments
6. Continuously share disaster knowledge and information through educative reports/writings in media to raise public awareness on disaster issues.
7. Develop dynamic discussions/dialogues with other journalists and editors to gain news slot priority and to make them understand about the importance of disaster news.
8. Develop a list and prepare emergency logistical needs that include foods, medicines, safety equipments, communication tools and equipments, and other necessary items.

On the ethical side, journalist should:
1. Hold the principles of accuracy, factuality, balance, ethic, and value to human rights
2. Understand and master the journalism ethics
3. Understand law no. 40/1999 on press
4. Master the news coverage ethics
5. Master the interview ethics
6. Understand the local wisdom and norms in the community they are deployed to

At the time of disaster, the journalists should:
1. Save and evacuate themselves, their families and close relatives
2. Be prepared for the assignment (prepare all needs suited to the disaster locations)
3. Gather preliminary information on the aimed disaster location
4. Coordinate with their colleagues, other journalists, networks, and related institution/organization
5. Observe and gather the information on the respected disaster
6. Report the disaster information
7. Ensure their personal safety and the safety of their family

On the management side, the media/management/editor should:
1. Provide reporting tools, equipments, and logistical needs (including DV camera, laptop, satellite phone, rechargeable/extra battery, basic medical equipments/medicine, food supplies, water sanitizer/purifier tablets, GPS)
2. Provide disaster reporting terms of reference (TOR)
3. Provide clear working/coverage areas for journalists, especially when they deploy more than one journalists
4. Rotate journalists assigned in disaster-affected areas
5. Continuously ensure the safety of the journalist/s living in disaster-affected area
6. Examine the disaster map as soon as there is information on disaster occurrence
7. Brief the journalists who are assigned to the disaster-affected areas
8. Be prepared for the possibilities of evacuating the journalists from the area
9. Deploy a back-up team that is equipped with all logistical needs
10. Be able to receive the raw reports from the journalists by phone

On the skill side the journalists should:
1. Emphasize on human interest sides and put the importance on the living survivors in their news
2. Position themselves as the journalists not as volunteers
3. Always establish good coordination with related institution/organizations
4. Possess basic life-saving skill in emergencies
5. Understands the psychology of the victims
6. Be able to define news angle and resource persons suited to the disaster issues covered
7. Be able to “read” the situation and the disaster map
8. Establish the networking with the authorities, communities, and every person in the coverage area
9. Interact well with the resource persons
10. Establish favourable communication and coordination with other journalists on the field
11. Be careful in covering the news and put their personal safety first
12. Keep in mind that disaster is not about an exclusive report, but more to be a social report
13. Should keep abreast with new, popular communication technologies (journalist should have a Facebook and Twitter account, be able to work well with cell phone and laptop)
14. Should understand the evacuation process and route, and understand the survivor/internally displaced people (IDP) management
15. Focus their reports on the survivors (people who are saved from the disaster), children, women, and elderly (vulnerable groups), and focus on the damage over public and economics facilities.
16. Be creative

On the ethical side the journalists should:
1. Establish inter-media syndication instead of copying other journalists’ news/coverage
2. Not publish any graphic or writing that might worsen the situation and/or survivor’s post-disaster trauma
3. Obey the rules/regulations established by disaster management authorities
4. Be sensitive to the situation in the area
5. Respect the disaster survivors
6. Be able to select questions that are appropriate to the survivors’ condition
7. Understands the local wisdom and social norms in the communities
8. Not dramatize the disaster stories, not gender biased
9. Be emphatic to the survivors
10. Keep in mind that disaster-affected area is not a tourism object
11. Set aside their ego, narcissism, and should not be exclusive
12. Use decent language, not provocative in writing/reporting

On the management side media management/editor should:
1. Secure/maintain the slot for disaster news
2. Supervise rehabilitation and reconstruction process in disaster affected areas
3. Observe the aid disbursement process
4. Develop the plans for follow-up and in-depth disaster reports
5. Present proper rewards to journalists returning from the assignments in post-disaster area
6. Continuously upgrade journalists’ skills in conducting the disaster reports
7. Encourage a continuous reports on reconstruction and rehabilitation process in disaster-affected areas

On the skill side the journalists should:
1. Travel to disaster-affected areas and develop reports that are based on accurate data (on the number of the survivors, IDP locations, disaster locations, aid needed by the survivors)
2. Expand the coverage areas based on the affected communities
3. Encourage information-sharing with other journalists and humanitarian organizations and government/authorities
4. Develop a media centre
5. Develop continuous reports that cover all disaster aspects including the condition of the survivors, the extent of damage, the social condition of the affected communities (in non-exploitative, non-dramatizing manners)
6. Write more in-depth disaster issues
7. Develop educative disaster reports
8. Maintain the continuity of disaster news
9. Develop empowering post-disaster reports to boost survivor’s motivation/spirit to live better and to recover
10. Be able to present the lessons learned from the disaster
11. Be creative
12. Be sensitive to, and observe/oversee the disaster recovery process
13. Be aware of the after-disaster hazards/impacts

On the ethical side the journalists should:
1. Not report news that awakens survivors’ post-disaster trauma, instead focus more on the education and mitigation issues
2. Not move to NGO or post-disaster reconstruction agencies(my note: this point is interesting, regarding that most journalists in our discussion group agreed that it is not ethical to do such move. I think it is related to their belief, that a journalist should be the impartial agent of social control, and therefore when a journalist decided to join the NGO reconstruction agency then he/she has taken a side)

Right now we are developing those discussion points into a guidebook that we will further improve with the inputs from more journalists. But so far, those points on what we need in disaster reporting have set up a ground for thoughts that further we hope would lead to improvements in disaster reporting.

Many thanks to our journalist friends for the thoughts. :)

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