Javad Mottaghi, Secretary-General of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (right), speaks with Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction (centre), as Giacomo Mazzone, Head of Institutional Relations at the European Broadcasting Union (left) looks on. (Photo: UNISDR)
By Jonathan Fowler
SENDAI, 17 March 2015
– Four broadcasting unions whose membership spans Africa, Arab states, the Asia-Pacific region and Europe have vowed to push for greater media involvement in disaster risk reduction, given their crucial role as a conduit of information to the public.
In a formal pledge issued at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, the African Union of Broadcasting, the Arab States Broadcasting Union, the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union and the European Broadcasting Union said that they wanted to harness their ability to reach billions of people.
“Given its unparalleled reach to wide audiences, the media plays a crucial role in promoting disaster risk reduction policies, disseminating early warning messages and advancing regional and national disaster risk reduction agendas,” they said.
Institutions and individual experts in the disaster risk reduction sector sometimes bemoan the fact that the bulk of the media tends to focus on death and destruction, rather than carrying stories about ways to prevent hazards such as typhoons from turning into tragedies. Many journalists counter that it is up to the other side to help craft compelling messages and deploy jargon-free language which makes sense to audiences whose risk-awareness needs raising.
“We want to raise awareness,” said Giacome Mazzone, Head of Institutional Relations at the European Broadcasting Union. “It’s about the link between policy decisions and actions on the ground.”
Working together is a solution. UNISDR and national disaster management authorities, for example, organise regular training events for the media which provide an opportunity to trade idea.
It is now time to step up such efforts, with an overarching approach, the broadcasters said.
“In order to fulfil the media’s immense potential as an information disseminator and powerful behaviour changer, the media would like to be accepted not as a mere messenger but a partner in developing and implementing DRR policies at regional, national and local levels and also help dismantling the silos in which most stakeholders work at the moment,” they said.
Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, hailed the broadcasters’ strong statement and “formidable outreach”, noting that there was growing demand for their input.
“One of the very strong messages which is coming out, and not only from this conference, is a call for much more public awareness and education,” she said.
For Javad Mottaghi, Secretary-General of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, cooperation is a “win-win situation.”
While mindful of editorial independence, the broadcasters said that many media organisations accept their duty to serve wide audiences -- including most risk-vulnerable groups such as women, children and youth, persons with disabilities and the elderly -- before, during, after disasters.
In addition, they said that they recognise the need to be proactively preparing people during quieter times between disasters and that they commit to expand coverage of climate change and DRR, and to educate their audiences on these issues.
Besides trying to create a “common language” between institutions, experts and the media, so-called “disaster literacy” is also important, they said.
The broadcasters said that when it comes to covering the issue, there is a “huge gap in media knowledge and expertise to do so and that the ‘messengers’ have to be educated themselves about the complex issues of climate change impacts and mitigations”, as well as disaster risk reduction.