On World Radio Day, journalists in the capital Conakry in Guinea reflected on the role of radio in the Ebola epidemic and other humanitarian crises, drawing on the day’s theme – “Radio in Times of Emergency and Disaster.”
A special edition of the radio program Ebola Chrono (in French) was produced and broadcast for the occasion.
Jérémie Soupou originally came to N’Zérékoré to head an Internews’ project that was mainly about promoting social cohesion in Guinea. The emergence of Ebola in Guinée Forestière meant adapting quickly to daunting new challenges. Information was scarce, rumors were rife and health workers found people reluctant to abandon time-honored cultural practices that could be fueling the epidemic.
“Local radio stations cut through the reticence and the doubts,” says Soupou. “They were broadcasting in local languages and that was crucial in winning people’s confidence.”
Working for Internews at the peak of the Ebola crisis in next door Liberia, Cameroonian journalist Tapang Ivo Tanku saw quickly that that radio was a vital ally for NGOs and others trying to battle Ebola on the ground.
“It was from the local radio stations that people were getting their information,” said Tanku. “And NGOs were learning from the stations too. If the radios are not there in those circumstances, it can be very difficult to reach communities.”
As a journalist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Franklin Moliba-Sese learned much about the practice of humanitarian journalism in conflict zones. In Haiti, he witnessed the massive natural disaster of the 2010 earthquake. “All the existing radio stations were wiped out,” Franklin recalls. “People desperately needed information on how to get food, water, shelter and medical help.”
Internews helped fill the information gap in Haiti with Enfòmasyon Nou Dwe Konen (News You Can Use), a Haitian-produced show that gained a huge local audience. “Humanitarian journalism is about engagement,” says Moliba-Sese. “Journalists need to rethink their approach and their perspective. Sadly, not enough are ready to do that.”
Pierre Mignault’s work as a journalist, media trainer and documentary-maker has brought him into crisis situations in many parts of the world. In Guinea, Mignault’s work with the radio show Ebola Chrono showed the importance of relaying prompt, reliable information to communities that were frightened and ill-informed. People needed to shed their misconceptions and know what was safe and what was not and where they could find help. Mignault says humanitarian journalists are not unlike other journalists – all are there to provide information. “But humanitarian journalists must not engage in idle polemics, they should help create dialogue,” he said.
Internews’ project in Guinea is funded by the US Agency for International Development.