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Disasters and the mass media


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Disasters and the mass media

  1. 1. Working with themass media in crisisDavid AlexanderUniversity College London
  2. 2. Major emergencies and the mass media• emergency managers cannotafford to ignore the mass media• mass media culture reflects thedominant political and culturalinstutitions which created the mediaand which continue to influence them.
  3. 3. Impact of disaster TimeDeficit SurplusExcess ofinformationInformationcriticalbut lackingShortage ofinformation
  4. 4. Types of news in disaster:-• descriptions of events and situations• human interest stories- plight of the survivors- heroism of rescuers- fortitude of victims• political reactions to the disaster• links to other problems(for example, crime)• vox populi.• what the authorities say
  5. 5. Sources of news in a disaster:-• journalists at the site• journalists at the nearestcentre of government• press agency reports• official communiqués.
  6. 6. What do the mass media andthe general public want to know?• what has happened?• where and when?• who is or was involved?• what caused the situation?• what can be done to put things right?.• why did it happen?
  7. 7. • how serious is the damage?• what safety measures are being taken?• whose fault is it?• who wil take the responsibilityfor what happened?• what should be said to victims,survivors, and people at risk? .• has anything similarhappened in the past?What do the mass media andthe general public want to know?
  8. 8. The mass media in disaster:-• 24-hour coverage• they need press conferencesand constant supply of information• they need a point of reference• they need access to a senior official• the look for observation points;their approach is invasive.
  9. 9. The "targets" of the mass media:-• witnesses• injured people• survivors• people in mourning• "heroes and villains".
  10. 10. News is....• perishable - its valuechanges every day• a kind of "frame of reference"for emergency personnel• a mirror but also a product ofthe prevailing social reality• a mirror of the event,but not of its causes.
  11. 11. The news value of a disasteris determined by:-• its geographical location• distance (a nearby or distant event)• the type of event (disaster agent)• the difficulty of collecting information• the context of other news storiesthat are current at the same time.• the probable level of interest on thepart of viewers, listeners or readers
  12. 12. The importance of the storyis determined by:-• rank in government or other hierarchy• impact on the nation oron national interests• impact on a large number of people• significance for the pastand for the future.
  13. 13. Journalists criteria for choosing oremphasising a news story:-• level of human interest• novelty (fresh or stale)• equilibrium (story, subject,geography, political aspects)• quality of the story (actions,rhythm, completeness, clarity).
  14. 14. Some styles of television journalism:-• sensationalist: reports that "threatenviewers with terrible things"• factual: reports that "renderterrible things manageable"• didactic: reports that"demystify terrible things"• philosophical: reports that"mix wisdom with resignation".
  15. 15. The process ofcommunication betweenthe mass media andthe general public ispowerful but imprecise.
  16. 16. Negative aspects of themass media in disasters:-• reports of disaster tend to beunsustained and unsystematic• the sense of responsibility is lacking• prejudice, sensationalism, negligence• political bias• errors about the presenceof panic and chaos.• a chronicle of rumour and "myths"
  17. 17. • ethnocentric bias• information on risk is not given• the media do not encourage peopleto reduce their own risks• discrepancies between reports ofdisasters at home and abroad• the media are mainly interestedin the short term aftermath ofdisasters not in the long term.Negative aspects of themass media in disasters:-
  18. 18. • lack of objectivity or of neutrality• every day there has to be new news• news value of disaster has nothing to dowith its seriousness: the probable levelof interest on the part of the readers/viewers/listeners is more important• officials and the public do nothave much faith in the ability ofjournalists to report disastersresponsibly and accurately.Negative aspects of themass media in disasters:-
  19. 19. The example of a flood affecting a city....• the opposition newspaper reports thatthe government have failed to managethe situation (but offer no evidence)• the pro-government newspaper deridesthe recovery plan proposed (but nevertested) by the opposition party• foreign mass media are not interestedin the plight of victims and survivors• domestic mass media concentrareexclusively on political and humaninterest aspects of the disaster.
  20. 20. Limitations of disaster reporting:-• visits by journalists to the disasterarea tend to be short and hasty• journalists may not understandlocal language, culture and customs• news may be filtered by the perceptionsof people who are interviewedand of the journalists themselves• reality is distorted to the anglewhich seems most interesting to,readers, viewers or listeners.
  21. 21. • headlines must be different every day• publicising a disaster may contributeto the "convergence reaction"• negative reports can diminishthe credibility of emergencyresponse officials.Limitations of disaster reporting:-
  22. 22. Some "myths" propagated by journalists:-• collapse of the social order, prevalenceof panic and disorderly flight• psychological dependency of survivors• competition for resources• lootingThe mass media love to portray disastersas unpredictable, abnormal events thathappen abruptly and without warning.
  23. 23. Positive aspects of the media in disaster:-• most journalists want to reportwith accuracy and objectivity• they are usually happy to collaboratewith the authorities and help give outgood information to people who need it• they can be made to see theirown role in disaster management.
  24. 24. Journalists can be convinced to....• report information on the seriousness,extent, diration and effects of disaster• document the progress ofrescue and recovery operations• help educate the public to helpprepare them for future disasters It helps to create a poolof accredited journalists.
  25. 25. Understanding the mass media....• radio needs informationvery quickly• television needs a strong visualimpact and a sense of immiediacy• newspapers need a deeperunderstanding of the situationand appropriate graphic material.
  26. 26. Science and the mass media:-• scientists supply information thatis "hard", accurate and objective• this information can be usefulto the public when it isinterpreted in the right way• scientific information reducesthe incidence of rumour,exaggeration and bad management• use of scientific information needsdevelopment of mutual understandingbetween journalists and scientists.
  27. 27. But....• disagreement between scientists canhave a negative effect on reporting• journalists may try to dramatise scienceto make it seem more interesting• journalists are not always able todistinguish real scientists from charlatans• interruptions by journalists caninterfere with scientists work.
  28. 28. Mutualantipathyorcollaborativerelationship?Representativesof the massmediaEditorialindependenceand freedomSales andratings;reputation;revenue fromadvertisingEmergencyand disastermanagersObligationto informthe publicPublic informationcentres; warningsand alerts;informing therelatives of victims
  29. 29. In a crisis the public will need:-• essential details of the incident(where, when, who, how, etc.)PRACTICAL ASPECTS• to know the possible effectson public health and safety• advice on how to reactand what measures to take• to be reassured.
  30. 30. • a well-designed system to receiveinformation rapidly from civilauthorities, emergency servicesand other organisations• immediate telephone contactwith the appropriate authorities• a vantage point at the incident site.PRACTICAL ASPECTSIn a crisis the mass mediawill need:-
  31. 31. Vantage point at an incident.
  32. 32. In a crisis the public will want to know:• practical details, such as effectson transportation, what precautionsto take, etc.• a number to call forinformation and confirmation• the official version ofevents, supplied by a spokesperson.PRACTICAL ASPECTS
  33. 33. EmergencymanagersSpecialgroupsVulnerablegroupsJournalistsPool ofaccreditedjournalistsInvolving the public and the mass media:-Civil protectionservicesGeneral public Mass mediaFieldexercisesPublicitycampaignsInterviews andinformationVolunteergroupsCivil protectionpress officeInformationflux
  34. 34. A model of mass media response todisasters (Scanlon and Aldred 1982)• when the mass media hear about anincident, the immediately try to obtaininformation and send journalists• the media use their own archivesto enrich their articles and reports• information collected by the media isshared between one channel and another• the media seek to put the newsinto their own model of events.
  35. 35. • the media want press conferencesin order to record officialdeclarations about the situation• the different media behave differently:radio, newspapers, television• there may be differencesbetween local and foreign media,which form a separate group• local resources (communications,transport and accommodation,will be used by the mass media.A model of mass media response
  36. 36. • the mass media work in cycles, withhighs in the dramatic moments andlows when there is not much to report• in a major disasters journalists sharethe information that they collect• however information has beencollected, the media will not publishit if it is considered to be harmful• the media will obey official requeststo suppress certain information.A model of mass media response
  37. 37. Diffusion of informationPerceptual filterCultural filterEmergency not decodedEmergency decodedIgnoranceImagesof realitySymbolicconstructionsEnlightenment
  38. 38. Conclusions• in disasters information is a primaryresource for all participants• the information technology revolutionis being followed by a revolution in howinformation is distributed and verified• the great challenge is to findcommon values between journalists,professionals and the general public.
  39. 39. Information - caveat emptor!• free flow of information in networks canlead to the flow of wrong information;quantity increases - quality diminishes• the abstract nature of moderncommunication increases therisk of serious misunderstanding• emphasis is changing from managingcrises to managing reputationsduring crisis situations.[X]