Panicked cries of ‘Earthquake!’ should not create smiles of disbelief. The possible shock that science is warning for Bangladesh would almost certainly be devastating. But this training with actors was for senior journalists from Bangladesh media. As anywhere in the world, they are likely to be a tough crowd!
It was not easy to get the seventeen together. Attendance up to the last minute was dependent on the national news agenda. Taking them to a location outside of the capital Dhaka was deliberate so that mobiles would not so easily summon them back to their news desks.
The training through was considered vital. Bangladesh is one of the most populous and densely populated countries in the world, and the informal housing and tightly packed buildings in Dhaka suggest that a major earthquake would cause severe loss of life. In such circumstances, says Sayed Ashraf, a communication specialist at the Government of Bangladesh’s Department for Disaster Management, the media will have a considerable role to play. They have, he says, public trust and will be in a position not only tell people about what is happening but also to give them information to help save lives.
This was the main point of the training. Although journalists are used to handling news, they may not be as adept at channelling information for people rather than transmitting information about them. During the training the journalists were required to produce messages, bulletins and programmes from official sources of information as well as affected people in a number of contexts where the actors cried, moaned and provided details for ‘stories’. The aim was to expose them to ‘Lifeline Communication’ approaches. This is a concept developed by the organisation BBC Media Action, and according to Nabin Rezwan of UNICEF Bangladesh, who helped facilitate the training, it requires a change of mind set amongst media. Journalists, he says, may not be used to reporting in ways that minimise harm and to be a channel in their own right for messages to and from affected people.
Ferdousi Manu, a special correspondent with Bangla TV said the training had given her new insights which she would be using, while Zahirul Haque, the deputy Director of Bangladesh Radio said he would be looking to incorporate the Lifeline Communication approaches into the organisation's planning processes.
The training was organised by the Shongjog multi stakeholder platform, a partnership of humanitarian organisations and the Department of Disaster Management established under a CDAC Network project funded by UK Aid through the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP). Shongjog, which means ‘Linkage’ works to improve communication with affected communities in emergencies.
The Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme works to develop effective response where it is needed most, and aims at a major improvement in the way countries cope with populations caught up in a disaster or conflict. This ground breaking programme, one of the largest investments of its kind, is managed collaboratively by the CDAC and Start Networks. Between them they leverage the expertise of more than 50 member organisations.