Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Crisis Zones & Media Trust

Good article in today's International Herald Tribune by the founder of Media Action International, now defunct because of some rather short sighted thinking in Switzerland. The author is Edward Girardet, a journalist who has reported on conflict and humanitarian situations worldwide for more than 25 years.

CESSY, France. The millions of people caught up in disaster every year, whether refugees from Bosnia and Chechnya or war-torn populations in Congo, Liberia and Sudan, need immediate information in order to survive. They need to know where there is food aid, where to find shelter, where land mines are a danger.
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That's why, six years ago, I and other journalists founded a nonprofit organization called Media Action International, which undertook media projects, like radio broadcasts with news about relief efforts, aimed at helping people get information so they could rebuild their lives after disasters and war. Media Action couldn't get enough financing to stay in operation, and so it is now winding down. But the need to get information to refugees remains.
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One of the first things people need, even before receiving food or medical relief, is reliable information on their situation: how to keep their children healthy in dusty refugee camps, how to avoid dangerous zones, how to trace lost relatives. Often, too, populations are perplexed by the sudden influx of aid agencies, or can't understand why the military forces that only yesterday were bombing their country are now acting as peacekeepers.
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Unfortunately, many donor countries and organizations don't seem to agree. They are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on emergency food, shelter and medical supplies, but refuse to help aid recipients receive the information they need to cope. In some ways, that is understandable: after all, it is far easier to talk about distributing 300 tons of food or medical aid than about ensuring access to credible and independent information.
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Other donors simply find it difficult to see how information fits into their missions. Is it humanitarian? Or is it part of development, education or human rights? While some governments, like the British and Dutch, have clearly understood the need, others have not. Many fail to grasp that information touches on all these domains.
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Thus, for many donors, information is simply not a priority. Or it is something to be controlled, like the U.S. Agency for International Development's policy of channeling financing for information in Iraq, Afghanistan and West Africa through front organizations that have nothing to do with the news media.
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Like Media Action International, other nongovernment media organizations - Fondation Hirondelle, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Internews and Search for Common Ground - are all having difficulty convincing donors to let them serve as communications bridges between the international community and populations in crisis. Likewise, there is an urgent need for more conventional reporting of humanitarian crises and wars worldwide.
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One option being proposed by several journalists is the creation of an independent media trust fund financed by governments, foundations, business and news organizations. Headed by news media and aid professionals, this would make grants to nongovernment organizations as well as journalists seeking to undertake public information initiatives, like television documentaries, to highlight critical issues.
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Such a fund would help fill the gap for important information in crises. It would also go a long way toward recognizing the importance of information as a need - and a human right.

edgirardet@cswebmail.com




1 comment:

George Lessard, The MediaMentor said...

Edward Girardet was (is) one of the people who helped start the Creative-Radio http://groups.yahoo.com/group/creative-radio/ e-mail list which has been able to survive the demise of Media Action International thanks to funding from Internews® Network http://www.internews.org and Media Support Solutions / Media Support Partnership http://www.mediasupport.org , George Lessard, Moderator, Creative-Radio.

Creative-Radio is an independent forum for people active in or interested in the use of radio in development, in particular promoting public health, improved education, protection of the environment, improved livelihoods, good governance and conflict mitigation. Since it started in 1996, Creative-Radio has been in the forefront of radio‚s resurgence as a tool for social change and peace-building, and it helps promote best practice in these areas.

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