Reassuring voices in the storm

Sally-Ann Wilson

In its recent biennial conference, the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association recognised a vitally important role of radio broadcasting: providing information and reassurance during emergencies, disasters and national crises.

One word can be used to describe the 100-plus broadcasters that belong to the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA): diverse. From the mighty BBC to the tiny media organisations that serve the people of the Pacific islands. Despite di­versity of income and output, there is one situation in which citizens everywhere turn to their public broadcaster for essential in­formation they can trust. That is at times of national crisis. During emergencies and disasters, when the electricity fails and the Internet is down, radio can still provide vital, life-saving information and reassurance.

In recent years, many CBA members have suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves centre stage as their broad­casts become the focus of national crisis: the devastating floods in Pakistan dur­ing 2010 and again in 2011; Radio New Zealand, Maori TV and TVNZ following the Christchurch earthquake; and ABC’s coverage of the dreadful bushfires of 2009 and Queensland floods of 2010-11.

On each occasion, the senior managers have been called upon to lead their organi­sations through the crisis. Many would ac­knowledge that these were situations for which they were not prepared. For that rea­son, the 2012 CBA General Conference set out to enhance and develop media leader­ship skills during times of emergency.

When Australian Broadcaster ABC of­fered to host the 2012 CBA conference in Brisbane, little did they know that the city itself was to become the focus of global media attention with the tumultuous floods of early 2010. But on 22 April this year, after months of rebuilding and recovery, nearly 200 delegates were able to converge on Brisbane to share their knowledge and experience of providing accurate and de­pendable information during tsunamis and floods, earthquakes and landslides.

Commonwealth speakers were joined by producers and managers with valuable insight from organisations such as Japan’s national broadcaster NHK and the new Thai public broadcaster Thai PBS. The presentations demonstrated the courage of individual staff and the benefits of thorough training for all. During break-out sessions, delegates learnt about trauma management and preparedness from the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, and about the need to provide frontline staff with adequate hos­tile environment training from Dynamiq, the Australian-based emergency management company.’s Crisis Response team outlined how broadcasters can work with them to improve the speed and effec­tiveness of disaster response.

The media is usually quick to report disasters, but as delegates wandered along the pristine South Brisbane riverbank gar­dens, they were also able to witness the power of recovery – something the media is not usually so keen to document.

About the author:

Sally-Ann Wilson, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association


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