There is little doubt that the media has a profound impact on our awareness of humanitarian emergencies and disaster relief around the world. The reality of these disasters, and our responses to them, are heavily influenced by the framework that the media uses – through exposure on television, radio and in print – to capture our attention.
The media has a number of important responsibilities during a natural disaster. I have broken down their responsibilities into four stages: early warning, immediate response, post-disaster review, and implementation. While these phases do not necessarily occur one after the other without overlap, they form a good basis from which to ...view middle of the document...
The final stage is the “implementation” phase, during which the media’s responsibility is to highlight the recommendations from the post-disaster review, and put pressure on the government to change their policies.
In this essay, I will examine the roles of the media through each of these phases – focusing predominantly on Australia – and determine their successes and failures in each different approach. I will also consider the crucial relationship between the media and NGOs, and identify the ways that the media can work more closely with technology to assist NGOs and public organizations in their relief efforts and disaster management plans.
EARLY WARNING PHASE
During the early warning phase, the role of the media is to alert victims of impending disasters and distribute disaster response advice.
Effective warning systems (EWS) and disaster reduction strategies are still not a natural component to disaster management and risk reduction globally. In the developing world, there is a shortage of equipment, skills and resources, and a number of isolated communities with little or no access to technology. In developed countries, there is a lack of consensus on the ‘right’ way to handle disaster situations.
The problem with EWS is that they are transmitted through multiple channels before being broadcast to the vulnerable population. In the case of a fire warning for example, the Bureau of Meteorology may identify the initial threat and pass the warning to the prospective fire department headquarters. It may then be transmitted to the local fire authority, who then commences their pre-planned disaster response plan. Next, the national broadcast media (radio, TV) would alert the public of the impending disaster and advise them what action to take. Finally, as not everyone would necessarily have access to these media forms at the exact moment of the warning, it could pass through social networks and trickle down to individuals over time. Just like in the game ‘Chinese Whispers’, this process runs the risk of the message being delayed or distorted by the time it reaches the final target. While many different combinations of channels can work depending on local conditions, each requires a clear understanding of its roles and responsibilities.
In most countries, traditional broadcast radio and TV remains the most widely used channel for distributing disaster warnings. TV and radio are used in Australia for immediate warnings to inform communities they might be at risk. The Internet and newspapers can also provide regular updates and alerts. However, this arrangement is not always effective, particularly in countries with a high population of isolated communities. In Mozambique, warning messages transmitted over the radio can quickly reach isolated rural communities where no other form of communication is available. However, in the poorest communities many people may not have a radio. Wind-up and solar powered radios were designed...