Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Peace journalism principles guide disaster coverage

The peace journalism approach is about much more than covering wars.

Exhibit A is coverage of Typhoon Haiyan. In the short term, a peace journalism approach would demand that the power of the media be used to highlight the needs of the survivors, and empower viewers and readers who want to provide assistance. In the coverage I’ve seen from BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera and read over the wire services, I’d say that the media have been vigilant (if occasionally overly dramatic) in making sure that needy Filipinos have their voices heard. TV/video media have also done a pretty good job, in my estimation, of avoiding showing the most graphic images. As peace journalism teaches, journalists should strive to not make a horrible situation even worse by re-traumatizing victims and their families by carelessly showing bodies.

One big mistake made by media is jumping to conclusions about the number killed, and airing what producers must have known were virtually made up casualty figures disseminated by local authorities. This figure, 10,000 deaths, appeared prominently worldwide. In fact, this number was incorrect. Today, the Philippines president said that the early estimates might have been four times too high. When media publicize wildly incorrect figures, this undermines their entire coverage, leading some skeptical viewers to conclude that perhaps the need for relief has also been exaggerated. This, in turn, could have a negative impact on collection of donations for the victims.

Perhaps the most important application of peace journalism principles to Typhoon Haiyan won’t occur this week or even this year. The test for journalists will be if they follow up on the rebuilding in Tacloban and other devastated areas. Journalism has long been criticized, and rightly so, for parachuting into humanitarian disasters then leaving a few days or weeks later when the story gets cold. Peace journalists, I would argue, can and should do more. We should be on the ground three months, six months, and one year from now telling the stories of the victims while holding relief agencies and the Filipino government accountable for their response to the storm. 

No matter how long it takes, the media spotlight shouldn’t leave the victims until their lives take on some sense of normalcy.

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting and very true! More should be done than just documenting the disasters, I feel that too much money is being spent producing and so forth on the news stories/documentaries instead of using the money for more beneficial means.