As a Media Studies student interested in the humanitarian consequences of media, it´s important to be abreast of how humanitarian organizations can handle the news coverage of humanitarian emergencies in the most strategic way possible. The whole area of media coverage during humanitarian emergencies is replete with issues concerning the way the coverage is prepared and presented, the images used, the impressions they create, and the influence that has on the response to particular emergencies.
A notion that appears to be gaining currency is that the extent of TV News coverage of an emergency rather than the scale of humanitarian needs alone influences the level of resources allocated to particular emergencies.
Recently, for example, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Dr Cornelius Sammarunga, tried to draw attention to what he terms `the Forgotten Emergencies’ in countries like Liberia, Afghanistan and Angola.
He sees the lack of coverage of these emergencies by TV companies as being an important factor in the lack of attention being given to conflicts like these by the international community.
To encourage more extensive coverage of these emergencies, the ICRC increasingly `hosts’ visits by TV film crews to the scenes of these conflicts. There is quantitative evidence to support the notion that the extent of TV coverage influences the level of resources allocated to a particular emergency. However, it is possible to see why this influence might be increasing. The number of humanitarian emergencies around the world is increasing; the resources allocated by the international community for responding to them are limited (even though they represent a substantial increase over previous levels); and the techniques for comparing relative levels of `need’ between these emergencies are poorly developed.
There is a pressing need for research on the complex relationship between media organizations, donor organizations and humanitarian agencies in the coverage of humanitarian emergencies by the media.
Another important dimension of the media coverage of humanitarian emergencies is that TV News coverage as the principal source of information on developing countries for the majority of the western public.
Yet, this coverage usually focuses on major political events, conflicts and disasters. It serves to create a distorted image of the developing world, where famine and conflicts are thought to be rife, affecting a much higher proportion of the population of developing countries than is actually the case.
The Annenberg Washington Program organized a roundtable meeting in Washington and a smaller working group meeting in London in 1993 to examine media coverage of disasters and humanitarian emergencies and to develop practical strategies for media and relief organizations to improve the coverage of humanitarian emergencies and disasters and reduce the distorting effects resulting from the concentration of news coverage upon extreme events.
Reporters, editors, producers, academics and senior relief agency personnel attended the meeting. The product of these meetings was a six-page summary by Fred Cate produced earlier this year: Media, Disaster Relief and Images of the Developing World: Strategies for Rapid, Accurate and Effective Coverage of Complex Stories from Around the Globe.
Specific strategies were suggested for media organizations and for development and humanitarian agencies. The strategies for development and humanitarian agencies included the following points.
Articulate and evaluate communications strategies: Agencies should publicly articulate their strategy for communicating with the media and the public. What are the purposes of those communications? To raise money, inform the public, change public opinion, motivate political action, to promote the organization? Conflicts among these goals should be acknowledged.
Communications strategies should be regularly evaluated to determine their effectiveness, relationship to the organization’s goals and their impact.
Relief organizations should regularly evaluate their communications strategies regarding their impact on public understanding and ethical and professional appropriateness.
Train personnel to work with the media: Agencies should provide training, particularly for personnel in the field, on how to work with the media so as to improve the timeliness, quality and accuracy of reporting about developing countries. Field offices could regularly identify stories warranting media coverage which head offices might then try to get media organizations to cover.
Assistance to the news organizations: This might include the provision of indigenous spokespeople and logistical support. Agencies could also try to link stories to those events relating to developing countries which are traditionally covered by western media such as meetings of the IMF and World Bank.
Evaluate media content: Agencies could evaluate media coverage for accuracy, quality, completeness, timeliness and professionalism.
Excellent media coverage could be recognized and used to help improve other reporting. Inaccuracies or misperceptions should be corrected through direct contact with the media and reporters involved. Other methods include letters to the editor, guest columns, counter-information, etc.
Create alternative programming: Agencies should work to facilitate documentaries and other programming that provides a more complete image of developing countries than TV coverage alone.
Adopt standards for communications with the public: Many relief agencies – individually and cooperatively – have adopted standards for their communications with the public. For example, InterAction requires its members to `respect the dignity, values, history, religion and culture´ of the people served by the programs.
So, now you can assist NGOs in their battle for real coverage of humanitarian disasters. Want to apply to study further or get on an internship program? We can help get your personal statement in order, and express your talents and passions really, really well. Get in touch to find out more.