The role of media in disaster management
IN the wake of sufferings caused by natural and man-made disasters in the last couple of decades, a new realisation is taking place in the contemporary world. There prevails a general comprehension to minimise the losses both to life and property to a maximum possible level through effective communication, utilising technology-based systems.
Social scientists and experts are of the view that through a system of devoted international cooperation, human sufferings caused by catastrophic impacts of disasters could be reduced significantly. This cooperation revolves around public information and education; improved warning systems; disaster preparedness; and mitigation.
These measures are aimed at ensuring improved public safety and lower economic losses. If we observe closely, communication is the most important means for achieving all of the above-stated objectives.
There is a paradigm shift toward disaster management approach in recent years. That is to prepare and plan for hazards in a proactive manner rather than waiting for them and reacting later.
This pre-emptive approach has evolved after a strong realisation that post-disaster relief remains ineffective if no measures are taken before the disaster strikes.
It can be claimed that preparedness is actually the most important phase of post-disaster management.
In recent history, communication has proved critical for the cause of disaster mitigation. It has provided not only the data management and analysis techniques but also increased our knowledge towards hazards’ origins and behaviours. Advent of mass media in recent years has helped sensitise people in most effective manner through live coverage of hazards and prompt reporting.
Understanding the importance of media communication, various humanitarian organisations have also established communication departments responsible for strong internal and external communication and media relationing. As per the new communication techniques for disaster management, it is now believed that the success of humanitarian efforts depends largely on organisations’ understanding of and relations with the media.
There are certain activities in hazard mitigation and post-disaster activities, which are directly dependent on mass media. These activities are focused on creating public awareness about the risk and responses.
Various advanced communication means can be used to give early warnings, evacuation plans and help post-disaster activities.
The media can play a leadership role in changing the mindset of society for making it more proactive rather than reactive. It also has the responsibility to make the message more valuable and credible for the general public.
Sensational and hyped news can give birth to another crisis in the form of chaos and fear, causing more losses.
In the last decade or so, there has been a flux of electronic media channels in Pakistan along with other countries of the region. The electronic media has an outreach to the masses, being present in every nook and corner of the country, and it is playing a comprehensive role in opinion making. One major contribution that the electronic media can make is establishment of early warning systems in far-flung and disaster-prone areas. Radio channels can play a primary role, as they have an outreach to most remote areas. The media contribution can lead to the development of a more robust community, which is more aware and educated about disaster preparedness and mitigation.
We can see the example of Japan where the nation has stood united against the destruction of earthquakes coming on a regular basis. There are continuous awareness programmes, trainings and drills going on which are produced and telecast by the media throughout the country.
The role of media is vital in the overall promotion of a better disaster management regime within a state. The role of print media cannot be neglected as it has been observed that receivers of the information have more trust in the written message than the word of mouth. The information given in newspapers is perceived as a reliable advice and people take it more seriously.
Another much neglected aspect during the pre- and post-disaster activities is the lack of communication and coordination among humanitarian organisations, development partners and state agencies. This leads to duplication of efforts along with lack of effective work on ground, particularly in the sensitive areas. Improved communication among various organisations is a must, but that is only possible in pre-hazard period. There must be identified focal persons and departments dedicated for such coordination. For disaster mitigation or response, focal persons can remain in contact with partner organisations and government officials for effective measures.
Despite the fact that private media groups and channels do have commercial interests, the media’s role in the case of a disaster should be based more on ethical and moral dimensions.
This is one area where the media should be much more responsible in disseminating information. It must win people’s confidence, and the provision of reliable information will serve the purpose. The media should not only be providing correct information and the right message at the right time but should also create an environment of solidarity and faith. This will help in augmenting the collective responsibility of all segments of society to tackle the challenges posed by any disaster.
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