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14 Oct 2011
Isagani Yambot Publisher, Philippine Daily Inquirer / Treasurer, Philippine Press Institute
Panel 1: Reporting on violence and emergencies: opportunities and challenges
Media Responsibilities in Reporting On Emergencies – Is Self Regulation Enough?
The topic assigned to me was: Media Responsibilities in Reporting on Emergencies – Is Self Regulation Enough? First, let me answer the question to get it out of the way. Yes, I believe that self-regulation is enough. I believe that the great majority, if not all, of mass media practitioners agree with me that we can regulate ourselves, that we don't need government regulation to do our job right.
In the aftermath of the hostage-taking in Luneta early in 2010 in which eight were killed, there was an outcry for media to draw up guidelines that would regulate the coverage of violent incident and emergencies. Almost all the leaders of media organizations, including the Kapisanan ng mga
Brodkaster ng Pilipinas and the Philippine Press Institute, were in favour of self-regulation. Media people are now grown up and responsible people who don't have to be regulated or dictated upon by government to act intelligently, responsibly and ethically in covering emergencies and violent situations.
Now, what are the responsibilities of media in reporting on emergencies and violent incidents? Before I proceed, I would like to stress that much of material that I will give you is not original, it is adapted from media kits, guidelines and pointers issued by various media organizations and institutes. There are three phrases in disaster risk management, and similarly, there are three phrases also in reporting of a disaster or emergency. They are first, the disaster; second, during the crisis or disaster; and third, the post-disaster phase.
Before the disaster strikes or an emergency occurs, the principal role of the media is to emphasize the importance of disaster risk reduction and preparedness. They should urge decision makers in the government and private sector and provinces, cities, towns and communities that are at risk to take appropriate action and precautionary measures to avoid further disasters. The media can do the following to promote preparedness and mitigate the effects of disasters and emergency situations:
1. Analyze risk sources and patterns. Urbanization, a rapid population growth, industrialization and environmental degradation are increasing risks and making disasters more frequent in our country and our world today.
The media can publish news stories, features, commentaries, editorials and articles by experts on how these four factors are making certain groups of people or certain geographical regions or areas more vulnerable to disasters and emergencies. 2. Inform the public. The media can provide information about the potential dangers and risks in the country or certain regions or areas. They can give information about the seasonality of certain hazards and risks, such as, for instance, the flood season, the drought season, the typhoon season, etc. The media can say which groups of people or areas are most at risk. 3. Give early warning. This is traditional media function. Scientific forecasts about potential hazards posed by storms, floods, volcanic eruptions, etc. are commonly broadcasted (?) over the radio and television and published in newspapers and the Internet. However, care should be taken to
minimize false or inaccurate reports and thus avoid panicking the public. 4. Give preparedness information. The media should give people information on what
precautionary measures they can take to avoid the loss of life and property from disasters and other hazards. These include information on evacuation, crop safety (early harvesting), safety of family property, food storage, documents and livestock safety, among other things. 5. Advocate risk reduction. The media should influence the decisions of government officials and leaders of the private sector to encourage them to give priority to risk reduction. 6. Encourage people's participation. The media should stress the need for the involvement of communities and the recognition of their role in meeting emergencies. The media could also publish the opinions of people from communities at risk on what they should be done to reduce their vulnerabilities and how they can get involved in government and NGO programs.
During a disaster or emergency situation
The media can: 1. Give the public timely and factual information. This includes information about what happened and the extent of the disaster, the losses caused and the current situation. 2. Advise the people about the action to be taken. The media can provide relevant information about emergency and precautionary measures, such as evacuation, areas they should not go to and water purification techniques to provide safe drinking water during emergency. 3. Report action taken by the authorities and aid groups. These include information about what the government has done to save the lives and property; what actions other agencies are undertaking: and what other plans, actions and measures the government has taken to save lives and provide aid to the victims. 4. Relay messages about the situation of isolated or trapped individuals and groups. Individuals or groups might be isolated or trapped in the rooftops, trees and other isolated places. The families and friends of such people possibly are worrying about them; the media can gather information about them and relay them to the public. 5. Facilitate communication among affected people and their relatives, friends, families in other parts of the country of the world. During major disasters, communication lines between the disaster
area and other parts of the country are likely to break down. The media can render an essential service by facilitating communication among survivors and their families. 6. Report on the needs of survivors. Government and aid groups might overlook certain groups of survivors. The media should make sure that all groups are given aid. The media can also help obtain aid from local or international organizations. 7. Stress the need for application o f minimum standards. The UNCHR and the international aid community have developed international standards on disaster relief. The standards are known as SPHERE, the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. SPHERE gives guidelines on the minimum needs of disaster survivors in terms of water sanitation, shelter, food, environmental health and other aspects. The media have to monitor and report whether the agencies are following these standards in giving relief and responding to emergencies. 8. Communicate potential secondary risks to minimize further disaster or damage. After a disaster, secondary hazards are likely to occur, such as fires, landslides or tsunamis after an earthquake; flash floods and landslides after typhoons; and electrocution or epidemics after floods. The media should obtain information about secondary hazards from scientific experts such as doctors, engineers and the weather bureau and advice from government officials and international aid agencies.
After the disaster The focus after the disaster is on rehabilitation and reconstruction. During this phase it is important to integrate disaster risk reduction into the process.
The media can: 1. Appeal for aid from all parties. The national, provincial and local agencies may not have enough responses to respond to the needs of rehabilitation and reconstruction. The media can help inform local and international agencies about the needs of disaster areas. 2. Report rehabilitation and reconstruction plans. The media can inform all stakeholders about the rehabilitation and reconstruction plans of the government. UN and NGOs. The media can facilitate discussion of the plans to ensure that the needs of survivors are truly addressed. 3. Encourage the participation of survivors in the recovery program. The media can conduct surveys among disaster survivors and solicit their opinion on how recovery plans can better meet the needs of the community. 4. Exert influence to integrate risk reduction and prevention. The media can contribute
sustainable social development by providing information which highlight, promote and advocate the need for the integration of risk reduction considerations into rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Now let us discuss some ethical guidelines for the media in disaster reporting. The media at all times have to know the difference between right and wrong behaviour and always do what is right.
Here are some key principles:
1. Be truthful. Do not spread distorted, biased and opinionated information. Avoid exaggeration as it can lead to racial, religious or political conflicts resulting in violence. 2. Serve the public interest. Good media practice should be free from obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know. 3. Take humanitarian approach. Maintain a decent and sympathetic attitude while reporting
crimes, accidents and disasters. The use of bad language, obscene or shocking pictures should be avoided. 4. Respect privacy. Respect for privacy, however should not be an obstacle to hold government officials and other individuals or entities accountable for their actions. 5. Maintain your integrity. Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment and shun secondary jobs, public office, political involvement and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity. 6. Honor your sources. Media people owe a responsibility to their sources. They have to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive information and avoid any action that would compromise the safety and security of their sources. 7. Be accountable for your writing. Admit your mistakes and correct them promptly. Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise car to avoid inadvertent error.
I must mention some guidelines on the reporting and coverage of disasters, emergencies and violent incidents involving women and children, because they are among the most vulnerable in these occurrences and situations.
When reporting on violence against women: 1. Label it "violence against women," "family violence" or "sexual assault." Avoid using terms like "relationship problems," "domestic dispute," "troubled marriage," "unwanted sex" or any other term that minimizes violent behaviour. 2. Contextualize the story. violence against women. 3. Be aware of how source selection will shape the story. 4. Acknowledge that violence against women is not a private matter, 5. Give priority consideration to safety and confidentiality needs of those who have been victims of Provide information about the prevalence, incidences and impact of
violence against women.
Principles and guidelines on reporting on children This guide was prepared by the Special Committee of the Protection of Children headed by the Department of Justice. 1. Children have an absolute right to privacy. The highest ethical and professional standards in reporting and covering cases of children must be observed such that in all publicity concerning children, the best interest of the child shall be the primary concern. 2. The child's dignity must be respected at all times.
Crimes of violence by or against children must be reported factually and seriously without passing judgement, stereotyping or sensationalism. 3. Children have the right to be heard. Access to media by children should be encouraged 4. The mass media is a partner in the promotion of child rights and the prevention of child delinquency, and is encouraged to relay consistent messages through a balanced approach.
As nations and societies develop and become more and more complicated, their dependence on mass media for information increases. Over the years, the media have taken on more and more functions and responsibilities and one of these involves disaster risk management where the media plays a key role in saving lives and mitigating the harmful and destructive effects of disasters and other emergencies. As media practitioners, we have to be conscious always of our responsibilities and of the ethical rules that guide our actions so that we can truly serve the interest of the public to which we owe our primary loyalty.
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