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Asia and the Pacific: media leaders share insights on reporting on emergency situations

11-10-2011 Interview

For the first time in Asia, more than 20 senior editors will join the ICRC to discuss reporting on situations of violence and other emergencies. Alain Aeschlimann, the ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, explains the rationale.

The conference will take place in Manila on 14 October. Why is the ICRC organizing this event?

The media in East Asian, South-East Asian and Pacific countries represent a major and continuously growing source of influence worldwide, and we want to hear their views. Not only do they report the news, but they also form opinion – and that, in turn, shapes events and developments in society. The region's media have a key role to play in raising awareness of violence and emergencies and of issues faced by vulnerable groups. We would like to discuss how media influence can mitigate the humanitarian consequences of acts of violence. The insights of the media representatives, which can be as diverse as the region itself, could enrich the global dialogue on key issues that have an enormous impact on people's lives.

What is the expected outcome of the conference?

With some of the region's top media professionals attending, the conference will provide a forum for debate on a variety of important issues. Among the topics up for discussion: What is the impact of social media and "citizen journalism" in crises? How should media view their independence in reporting on violence and disaster? What is the responsibility of media in emergencies?

Based on these discussions, we expect the participants to come up with a pledge or declaration making recommendations related to the main conference themes: reporting on violence and emergencies, the role of the media in protecting vulnerable people, and the safety of journalists. Besides serving as a platform for sharing best practice, this initiative is aimed at making the viewpoints and insights of media from the Asia-Pacific region better known.

The conference tackles the issue of the safety of journalists. Why is this a concern for the ICRC?

Reporting on situations of violence, natural disasters and other emergencies almost inevitably puts journalists' own safety at risk. The ICRC is well aware that the media often work in the same places around the world where we carry out our humanitarian activities. The ICRC has therefore had discussions, for many years already, with the media in a number of countries on the safety of journalists on dangerous assignment in conflict zones and elsewhere. The conference takes these discussions a step further by bringing together a group of leading media representatives who can tackle this issue and make proposals that take regional perspectives and experiences into account.

Does this mean that the media and the ICRC face common challenges?

Of course they do. But what they have in common goes beyond the physical risk involved in working in dangerous places. The work of the media, like that of the ICRC, can be helped or hindered by the authorities, by the local communities, by the victims of violence or natural disaster and, where there is armed violence, by those who carry weapons. The media and the ICRC both rely on eyewitnesses and the victims themselves for information about the situation on the ground – although for different purposes. Whereas the aim of the media is to provide accurate coverage of the latest news, that of the ICRC is to know what action it can take that would be the most suitable and effective way of bringing humanitarian relief. Of course, media coverage can also help the ICRC to know more about a situation and to cross-check information it already has.

What differences are there between the role of the media and that of the ICRC?

While both the media and the ICRC work in challenging conditions, there are some critical differences in their roles. The role of journalists is to report the facts that they have gathered. Often it stops there. In contrast, the ICRC's main objective is to improve conditions for people adversely affected by conflict, other kinds of violence and other emergencies. Achieving this aim takes time and requires continuous access to the victims. These requirements are the main reason why we maintain a bilateral and often confidential dialogue with the authorities concerned. When the ICRC needs to address a humanitarian issue, we say so face-to-face to those who have the responsibility to resolve it. This is the organization's tried and tested approach, which has enabled us to assist and protect vulnerable people for decades. In many crisis situations, long after others – including the media – have left, the ICRC stays on to feed people, bring them news from family members, visit them in detention facilities to assess their treatment and living conditions, restore access to drinking water or enhance the medical care they can receive.

Will it be possible to keep tabs on what is happening at the conference?

Recognizing that East Asia and South-East Asia are home to some of the world's most avid and advanced users of social media, we will tweet updates live from the conference in Manila (follow #mediamanila2011 hyperlink: http://twitter.com/#!/search/%23mediamanila2011 on Twitter). In addition, some media will cover the event via their own networks, blogs or other online media. On a special section of the ICRC website, it will be possible to download speeches and other materials from the conference. Video clips of the speakers will be available on the ICRC's YouTube channel.



Alain Aeschlimann

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