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Haiti earthquake: Broadcasting a lifeline to those who need it most

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Dave Lee | 14:19 UK time, Monday, 25 January 2010

BBC World Service has begun broadcasting a daily 20-minute programme for Haiti. Transmission time is 9:10 to 9:30 local time (14:10 to 14:30 GMT). The programme will be produced and edited by a BBC team in Miami. In a special post for the Over To You blog, the BBC's Nick Miles describes the challenges he and his team have had to overcome to put out the lifeline programme:

It's been an extremely swift launch of a new radio service to say the least.


It was only about four days from the first ideas being jotted down on a piece of paper to the programme, Connexion Haiti, going on air.

But it had to be quick.

The need for information in Haiti is acute and many of the local stations are still off air so Connexion Haiti is providing an important service for Haitians.

When we arrived at the BBC offices here in Miami last Thursday we already knew we had two Haitian Americans living in Miami who would present the programme. We also had a means of transmitting the programme via six FM frequencies across Haiti.

The frequencies are normally used by Radio France International for their broadcasts and they kindly stepped in to help the our programme gone on air. Connexion Haiti now also goes out on short wave and can he heard via the BBC Caribbean service website.

We broadcast a trial programme on Friday morning to test the signal and tell people how they could listen across Haiti and what they could expect from the programme.

So, with some of the logistics sorted out, we then had to decide what to put in Connexion Haiti.


A man listens to a radio at a refugee camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Picture: Associated Press

We knew this was would be a lifeline service for Haitians and we needed to provide as much up-to-the-minute information as possible about where people could find food aid, clean water, medical assistance and shelter. We pulled together that information from, among other sources, our BBC correspondents in Haiti along with the main aid organisations and the US military.

We set about getting a list of people we could interview in the Haitian language, Creole. We wanted to speak to as many people as we could who were working for the relief programme in Haiti to give an idea of where the new distribution points for aid were and where new field hospitals were situated.

But we've also used the interviews to broadcast appeals from the humanitarian organisations, specifically appeals for people to remain calm and to make sure they don't block any of the the main roads that might prevent aid getting through.

Connexion Haiti is also about hearing from ordinary Haitians caught up in the earthquake to find our how they're coping and what they need. To make this happen we set up a dedicated email address for our listeners, along with a number they could text and another where they could leave recorded messages. So far the response has been encouraging.

We've received texts emails and calls from Haitians saying that they're listening to the programme. Some have told us how they survived the earthquake while sadly members of their family did not. Others have left telephone numbers so that loved ones can get in touch.

Others have just emailed to say how important the service is for them because they know that the world cares about what's happened in Haiti. We've tried to broadcast as many of these messages as we can.

The programme's only twenty minutes long, and in that short time we want to get as much crucial information to people as possible but we've also tried to include items that show the people of Haiti that people around the world are thinking about them and taking concrete actions to help. In our first broadcast, for example, we ended the programme with the music of Haitian pop star Wyclef Jean playing at an international charity concert for Haiti.

He bellowed out his solidarity with his compatriots and perhaps that in some small way will give psychological boost to the people of Haiti who are living such desperate times.

Nick Miles is Producer, BBC Connexion Haiti

BBC News coverage of Haiti disaster - Photos: BBC World Service in Haiti

Over To You is your chance to have your say about the BBC World Service and
its programmes. It airs at 10:40 and 23:40 every Saturday, and at 
02:40 on Sunday (GMT). 



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