“The media can be important stakeholders during crises and we have an important and ethical role beyond crisis reporting, especially in reporting about what happened and placing it in proper context without raising unnecessary rumours that may harm the public,” Nepal-based journalist Chhatra Karki tells SciDev.Net.
“It is also important that local journalists should continue reporting on reconstruction and rebuilding to strengthen social harmony and provide updates,” notes Karki, coordinator of the Regional Bureau of Nepal Republic Media which publishes Nagarik News.
Karki notes that media institutions and journalists were among those affected by the 7.8 magnitude Nepal earthquake last April 25 that killed over 8,000 people.
Thus journalists he says also need to be provided counselling and stress debriefing while, at the same time, newsrooms must be prepared for disaster reporting by ensuring that it remains operational even in the middle of a disaster.
He rues the lack of technical knowledge in covering earthquakes was especially a limitation among local journalists, and rumours from local reports spread fear among communities that aftershocks will mean an earthquake of bigger magnitude, thus causing unnecessary alarm to the public.
Meanwhile, foreign journalists who came to Nepal after the quake only zeroed in on covering the numbers — the deaths, injuries, houses destroyed, and temples flattened, he adds.
The foreign media could have included the ratio of damage in and out of Kathmandu city to reflect the severity of the earthquake in relation to the distance with the epicentre. But he says that foreign media also had hurdles in knowing the local context and history of Nepal on top of language barriers when interviewing locals.
“A collaboration with local journalists would have proven helpful at this point. But in the middle of a disaster, even the journalists are victims themselves and have communication hurdles with their own media outfits as communication lines are down,” notes Karki.
Newspapers that normally put out 20-page issues daily came out with only eight pages during the week after the earthquake, he says.
One way that media can focus on during disasters is to help provide information on disaster preparedness and safety, including teaching people how to build survival kits and identifying the safe areas for evacuation in communities.
A development arising from the April earthquake was the signing of a 16-point agreement on Monday (8 June) that helps Nepal transition into a parliamentary government with eight federal states.
“Maybe, a silver lining out of this disaster is that it pushed Nepal policymakers to come out from an unstable political deadlock to one of agreement,” remarks Karki.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.