Media Action Insight Blog

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It has taken the aid community a long time to recognise the importance of listening to those affected by emergencies and providing them with reliable information, says our senior humanitarian trainer.

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  • Senior Advisor for Resilience and Humanitarian Response

    When I lived in Los Angeles, my neighbour got grumpy with me one day when I suggested we prepare our apartment building for earthquakes. He said: “If an earthquake hits and damages the property, so be it! It survived the 1994 earthquake just fine. Earthquake insurance and retrofitting is so expensive it’s not worth it. Part of living in California is dealing with the fires, mudslides, earthquakes, tsunamis...and now it's also horrible traffic, no middle class, rising crime, unaffordable housing, homeless encampments, etc…”)

    It’s not that my neighbour didn’t know about the risk of earthquakes, of course. It’s that he had a list of very common reasons to ignore it, including fate, history, cost, and competing priorities.

    I get his points, but when someone lives near a fault line (or flood zone or other high risk area) and does nothing about it, something is wrong. These days we have more access to risk data and risk assessment than ever before about the mounting risks around us – from severe weather through to cyber-attacks – yet the pace at which people take action to manage these risks lags far behind, be they ordinary people, like my neighbour, or policy-makers.


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  • Senior Producer / Trainer – Humanitarian Programming

    “One organisation delivers blankets; then another also delivers blankets. One organisation distributes rice, and then another also distributes rice. Talking of blankets, for example, I’ve got six or seven new blankets in my home.”

    These words, spoken by a Nepali man sitting on a pile of rubble after the 2015 earthquake, have stayed with me as a reminder of what needs to change in the global approach to humanitarian response.

    “Instead of giving us such things, they could give us what we need, like water, for example”, echoed a woman. “We asked particularly for water pipes and they didn’t give us those. We have to go far away with a basket to collect water.”

    At the root of this absurd situation were a number of key problems.

    Among them, the perpetual issues of coordination and professionalism. When lots of agencies are planning to help people, it’s clear that there needs to be a basic discussion on which agency does what, and where. In fairness, things have come a long way in the aid sector since high-profile humanitarian response fiascos of the 90s, such as the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide, led to an increasing professionalisation of aid and steadily better coordination. In...

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  • Country Director, Bangladesh

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    Originally posted here by Dhaka Tribune on August 17th, 2018.

    Imagine that you’re in charge of the response to the Rohingya emergency right now. Daunting, right? For a start, you’ve got to make sure that hundreds of thousands of people get the basic services they need. By itself, that’s a huge logistical and operational challenge. But at least your ‘to do’ list might seem pretty obvious: people need food, water, toilets, a place to sleep, medicine. It might be big in scale, but it maybe doesn’t feel so complicated.

    Now throw in some of the quirks of Cox’s Bazar: the hilly terrain which makes it difficult to move around; the threat of storms and landslides; and the uncertainty about how long people will stay in the area. All these things make it more difficult for you to provide support to the Rohingya community. But you’re a committed, resourceful individual, so you make the best plan you can and start your task.

    That’s when some unexpected obstacles might appear. You’ve planned to distribute rice, daal and oil – but no-one is taking the daal. You’re helping people move their houses away from landslide-prone areas – but no-one wants to go. You’re providing vaccines to protect...

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  • Country Director, BBC Media Action Sierra Leone

    National elections are always a fascinating experience when working for BBC Media Action. Frequently played out in fragile governance contexts, national elections are generally viewed as a key milestone in the democratic progress of a country.

    For the recent elections in Sierra Leone, rapidly increasing levels of access to social media – particularly among young people – had created an important and influential space for political discussion. In 2009, around 2% of people had internet access nationally. By 2016, 16% of people aged 15-30 nationally had access to the internet, rising to 48%...

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  • Director of Policy and Research

    Recognition that free and independent media around the world is in deep trouble is growing. Most democratic countries understand with increasing alarm the impact that the current assault on media freedom is having on prospects for democracy, development and stability. Misinformation and disinformation preoccupy multiple policy debates. Shrinking civic spaces and the fixing of elections – often by intimidating, co-opting or distorting traditional and social media - form a mainstay of anxious commentary among those who care about freedom and democracy.

    The response to all this, however, is a...

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  • Water Youth Network

    We need to support the next generation of risk management researchers and professionals to broaden their understanding about risk communication. Many of them are working in silos within their own disciplines and need opportunities to think about how scientific information can be communicated to those who need it most.

    So, together with a team of young professionals at the Water Youth Network and a host of supporting organisations - GFDRR, NERC, FM Global, and NASA - I led the development of a 24-hour Interdisciplinary Pressure Cooker event on risk communication at the Understanding Risk...

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  • Director of Policy and Research

    This year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations were two weeks after the largest ever conference focused on Social and Behaviour Change communication (SBCC). The two worlds, which I sometimes uncomfortably straddle, have a history of not connecting.

    The SBCC Summit had a broad agenda, ranging from mass media outputs to reduce maternal mortality to behavioural economics and artificial intelligence. The relationship between those using media in these ways and those supporting independent journalism has been a source of tension and disagreement over decades. But as support to both...

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  • Director of Policy and Research

    Many more issues and strategies can be considered but, ultimately, there is little point considering them unless there is space to properly organise the 21st century approaches necessary for media assistance to succeed.

    Several things need to happen.

    First, those funding international support to the media need to link up more to share learning of what they think works and what doesn't. This has not happened successfully in the past but signs are emerging that it can now. Private philanthropic foundations – such as the Omidyar, Ford, Open Society, Gates, Rockefeller, MacArthur and Knight...

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  • Director of Policy and Research

    The challenges highlighted in the first two blogs have, for some time, prompted much reappraisal and shifts in strategies by many media support organisations, BBC Media Action included.

    Working in fragile states where media markets were weak, we shifted our strategy in order to support and strengthen media institutions by co-producing or supporting the production of content which could deliver clear benefits to people: increasing their capacity to hold power to account, improving political participation, and fostering dialogue in increasingly polarised societies.

    We were especially proud...

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  • Director of Policy and Research

    A future agenda for media assistance cannot simply repeat the same strategies that have applied – sometimes successfully, sometimes not, in the past. What do we know has worked, what do we know has not worked, what might work in the future?

    I suspect there is widespread agreement that the democratic information space of the future will require strong, public interest institutions capable of generating journalism and other media content capable of underpinning informed public debate. The arguments of a decade ago, that citizen journalism would replace journalistic institutions, and that...

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