Language of disaster
(Gondar, Ethiopia)--When should an event be called a crisis, disaster, or catastrophe?
I had an interesting discussion with my Fulbright colleague Tim and one of his PhD students in public health at Gondar University about the power and importance of language for anyone communicating with the public. As peace journalists, avoiding inflammatory language is a fundamental tenet. I told my companions that peace journalists search for precise language that properly conveys a situation without sensational or emotional baggage.
I recommended the same caution for public health officials, beginning with carefully and consistently selecting the terms they use to describe a public health issue. My suggestion was that public health officials team with government officials and NGO’s to develop a public health alert system that describes events precisely using a graduated scale ranging from mild to emphatic. I think it’s important that all officials are using the same terminology, since it would create confusion to have the mayor using the term “crisis” while the public health office are calling it an “alert.”
Our lunch meeting was a reminder for me that precise, non-inflammatory language is important for many professionals, and not just peace journalists.
Logistics and preparations at Gondar University
|Gondar U; rear entrance under construction|
As I prepare for the upcoming semester, my appreciation of the work done by my colleagues at Gondar University to facilitate my stay here continues to grow. Finding a suitable apartment was task one. My place is small but nice, near the university and my American Fulbright colleagues. I have my classes lined up as well—Broadcast and multimedia writing, and Development communication. Both will be infused with a heavy dose of peace journalism. I’ll also be giving PJ lectures at Gondar University.
|Dorms, Gondar U.|
Now, I’m doing the lesson planning for my courses, and preparing content for an upcoming two day peace journalism workshop in Bahir Dar, about two hours away from Gondar by car. I’ll return to Bahir Dar in March to attend and speak at an international communications conference.