Sunday, April 02, 2023 | Ramadan 10, 1444 H
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Natural disaster reporting a complex task


There is no ‘news’ on the fact that the temperature is getting higher; that climate change is affecting economies, health, communities, and a myriad of other factors. Droughts will intensify, heat waves will increase in length and frequency, and heavy precipitation will intensify, according to reports by the American Meteorological Society explaining extreme events from a ‘Climate Perspective’.

Natural disasters belong to the real world. However, many of us experience the event through the media and official sources. As journalists, perhaps, it is time for us to look at the severe climate events happening around the globe and more closely at our doorsteps.

According to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), historically, most countries in the Middle East (and North Africa), approach disaster risk management with a focus on post-disaster relief and recovery activities. However, governments across the region are trying to change that, and recent years have seen the establishment of a number of national-level disaster risk management units.

Rationally, journalists should be part of the discussions on establishing disaster risk management needs. The reason is that climate journalism can contribute to developing public understanding of natural disasters from the perspective of a risk management issue: calling people’s attention on how to contribute to reducing damages.

Trust in the authorities and in the media is fundamental — particularly when disasters strike. Institutions and the media work together to save lives and minimise losses. Therefore, the ability to provide accurate, reliable information is essential to help reduce risks to populations.

Those people affected by the natural disaster need timely information, those not directly affected follow closely the calamity via media. Both groups feel connected to the misfortune through news organisations’ reportage and social media posts. People feel bonded by a shared experience. They all want further information on the devastation, on updates, on damages to infrastructure, on lives lost, including forecasts on repairs and economic consequences.

Reporting on natural disasters is one of the most complex journalistic tasks because events are happening in real time. There are aspects of dangers, stress, and rules to follow. Many rules indeed: from emergency units’ operations, from rescue teams, government officials and, directives from the newsroom.

Journalists may experience exhaustion — as the professional has to maintain the feed of updates on many actions — mostly all at the same time.

In fact, due to the social networking, and citizen journalism, there is huge pressure on journalists to keep filing, to keep finding new bits — and to be accurate and credible.

Social media has transformed news coverage of disasters. However, it can be full of rumours and unverified information. Therefore, increasing the level of strain on reporting accurately.

The demand of the circumstances can have its toll on journalists. They may have a crisis of conscience — they might feel the guilt of not having done enough to help or guilty of reporting on the tragedy and casualties. There is always a possibility of journalists feeling distressed in the context of what they have witnessed, especially when covering a local natural disaster. On top of these, most journalists probably never had safety training — or it is the first time reporting from a calamity zone.

Disasters drag on. Even after spotlights switch off and cameras move on to the next story, there will be stories to report. Many people are still suffering the consequences of the situation.

Others less responsible for their own lives and the lives of others might become headlines.

For the news organisations, it is time to revisit its own guidelines on covering natural disasters and evaluate what lessons are there — since severe weather conditions are here to stay.

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