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How fair and accurate was the media coverage of the Haiti crisis? Should we, as a sector, try to hold the media to greater account? How could we do this?

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Tamsin Walters

en-net moderator

Forum moderator

4 Jun 2010, 11:10

During the early phase of the recent Haiti crisis, the ENN became
increasingly exasperated by many aspects of the media coverage. Key points
of contention were; inaccuracy of reporting, lack of historical context and
understanding of the humanitarian system, failure to acknowledge or
represent the constraints on the ground, lack of balance and the tendency
towards sensationalism and 'bad news'. This was not limited to general media
reports, but in pieces in the Lancet and the BMJ, for example. ENN wrote a
number of letters of complaint one of which was published in the Lancet in
critique of their editorial (see below).

We would be very interested to know whether others working in our sector
were equally frustrated with this media coverage and if so, what views
people hold regarding whether and how our sector may be able to hold the
media to greater account?

We take issue with the view stated in The Lancet editorial of January 23rd
that " the situation in Haiti is chaotic, devastating, and anything but
coordinated". We have been working in the emergency nutrition sector for
over 20 years and have seen huge improvements in the coordination of
emergency response since the genocide in Rwanda.

One of the most important improvements has been the implementation of the
cluster approach as part of the Humanitarian Reform Process which aims to
address gaps and strengthen the effectiveness of humanitarian response
through building partnerships. There are global clusters representing eleven
areas of humanitarian activity. One of these is the Nutrition Cluster.

Led by UNICEF, the Nutrition Cluster comprises 33 international agencies
(UN, NGO and academic/research organisations) involved in responding to
emergencies. Haiti has been the most high profile disaster in the life of
the Nutrition Cluster to date and the Nutrition Cluster has risen to the
challenge with effect.

The Nutrition Cluster took on the role of coordination as soon as the
earthquake struck. Twenty two local and international organisations on the
ground are involved in health and nutrition services. These organisations
are updated on a regular basis through 'SitReps' which detail nutritional
needs, the activities of individual agencies, identify gaps and constraints,
and agree future action. Regular conference calls are convened to agree
strategy and to receive the latest information on developments in Haiti.
There is a Nutrition Cluster representative on the ground who arrived in
Haiti with a few days of the earthquake.

While the situation in Haiti is certainly chaotic and devastating, which is
hardly surprising given the scale and speed of onset of the crisis, we
challenge The Lancet to provide evidence of the lack of coordination in
health and nutrition. Furthermore, the Lancet editorial has completely
failed to highlight the constraints on the ground. UN agencies and INGOs
lost large numbers of staff in the disaster not to mention stocks and
logistical infrastructure. At the same time there has been limited capacity
of government counterpart agencies to work with the international community
reflecting both weak government capacity before the quake struck and the
impact of the quake the capacity that existed. Our evidence suggests that
Lancet assertions of poor coordination and chaos are simply wrong. We are
angered by the constant sniping of the media and are frankly surprised that
a publication such as the Lancet is writing sensationalist and poorly
researched editorials which would be far more at home in the tabloid press.

Karleen Gribble

Assoc Prof Western Sydney University

Normal user

22 Jun 2010, 00:54

It could start with more aid organisations putting out press releases that accurately refect the situation and the concerns of organisations. I monitored the media response in relation to infant feeding issues in Haiti and as is usually the case there were lots of calls for milk products (including infant formula) to be collected, lots of reports of collection and distribution of these products. There was not a lot of press releases for aid orgs countering these beliefs. Analysis of previous emergencies has shown that print media in particular will often use statements in press releases almost verbatim. So a good start to getting better information in the media would be to have the information (however controversial it might be) in press releases.

Tamsin Walters

en-net moderator

Forum moderator

18 Jan 2011, 11:14

ALNAP's Director, John Mitchell, wrote a blog last week about the media response to the one year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, prompting comments and discussion from figures across the humanitarian sector, including Sir John Holmes (Former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs), Barbara Stocking (Chief Executive, Oxfam GB) and Jemilah Mahmood (Chief, Humanitarian Response Branch, UNFPA).


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