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Clear message in disasters will save lives

Broadcasters have to develop clearer and consistent ways of communicating with their viewers and listeners at times of crisis, disaster experts have urged.

ABU members and other delegates at the Union’s inaugural Media Summit on Climate Change, ICTs and Disaster Risk Reduction in Jakarta, Indonesia, heard from broadcasters and civil organisations that had coped with major natural disasters that clarity and consistency were vital in saving lives.

Anothai Udomsilp, Director of the Academic Institute of Public Media at Thai Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), said people trusted the media to save them from harm before, during and after a crisis.

“Each stage needs different information and techniques,” he said. “When the tsunami hit Thailand, the word tsunami was new and heard for first time. So to give pre-warning messages with ‘tsunami’ was difficult.

“There was a lot of misinformation during that time, such as ‘everything under control’ until everything was under water.”

Mr Mohamed Shafeeg Mahmood, Managing Director of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), said they had Standard Operating Procedures for raising awareness, advocacy and the coverage of disasters. MBC broadcast regular spots on warning levels, potential dangers of disasters and how the public should respond. Once a disaster happened, MBC reverted to Emergency News Broadcasting.

“The 2004 Tsunami was the event that woke up the nation to the perils of a disaster and made apparent the lack of awareness of the public,” Mr Shafeeg said. “The Maldives knew of the earthquake because buildings shook, but were oblivious to the impending threat and there were no warnings issued to the public.

“The public knew of the tsunami only when it hit. By that time most communications were lost and power systems incapacitated. Mobile networks were knocked down and overloaded where coverage was available. It was a major challenge to the relief effort.”

Mr Toshiyuki Sato, Special Controller at NHK International and session moderator said the experience highlighted the need for media to be integrated into the disaster management chain.

“While the nature of the disaster may be different for each of our countries, the effect will be the same if we don’t get it right. We need to not only educate our citizens but also ourselves, to ensure we are prepared and ready to act in the interest of the public.”

Susan Tagle, the Overseeing Officer at the People’s Television Network of the Philippines, said calamities and other similar high-impact events were almost a fact of life in the Philippines, owing to its geography, topography and distribution of the population.

“The wide-ranging effects of these often unforeseen circumstance affect not only the country’s economy and people, and if not correctly addressed, create unwanted complications.”

“In times like this, the people look up to the government to apply timely and meaningful response. The communication of policy and other mitigating measures is an integral, if not a frontline response.”

Ms Tagle said the Philippines Government had set up a nationwide quick reaction information network and she explained to delegates how it worked in practice.

Mr Dody Ruswandi, Deputy Head of Preparedness and Prevention at the Indonesian National Agency for Disaster Management (BNBP), said most disasters occurred in poor and developing countries and three-quarters were hydrometeorological, such as floods, landslides, tropical cyclones and drought.

According to the international Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), total natural disasters over the last three decades had increased by almost 350 per cent and were likely to worsen due to increasing population, urbanisation, environmental degradation, poverty and global climate change.

He explained how the BNBP had been working with the media to change the mindset that good news about disaster risk reduction and preparedness could still be news and the agency had put a great deal of effort working with and training the media for their role in preparing for and covering unfolding disasters.