Toufique Imrose Khalidi made the observation while chairing a panel discussion at the ‘Asia Media Conference-2016’ held in Dhaka on Friday with the theme on “Reporting humanitarian emergencies and crisis”.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) co-organised the conference bringing together senior journalists of Asia.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam opened the conference.
Khalidi chaired a panel with Australia’s Brian John Thomson, Nepal’s Dewan Rai, Philippines’ Rowena Paraan, India’s Hartosh Singh Bal, China’s Xingmei Zhong and Bangladesh’s Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan and discussed the issue of “Threats and Opportunities in the Age of New media and Innovation”.
He said “accuracy” is more important than anything else in reporting.
Touching on reporting on humanitarian crisis, he commented that it is always a challenge in every part of the world, not only in Bangladesh.
“In my view, it is even more challenging when we try to report an impending crisis – one that has not happened but that is coming.
“Media do not only report on a crisis when it happens, media also have the responsibility to report when the crisis is in the making,” he said, citing example of a story he commissioned and supervised as an editor two decades ago on ‘what happens if a major earthquake hits Bangladesh’.
“We are often told a crisis of apocalyptic proportion awaits Bangladesh if a major earthquake strikes. I am not sure if we are prepared.”
Government officials sitting 76 kilometres from that area acted only after the media reported it, Khalidi said.
Pointing to the Rana Plaza tragedy that evoked worldwide concerns, he said tragic incident also exposed the media itself.
“We learnt that we don’t know how to report such a humanitarian disaster,” he said, some were criticising media for lack of sensitivity. “I would say rightly so. Media was very very insensitive.”
Khalidi also highlighted media’s role and said it was the media that helped Fire Service improve its capacity.
“Our Fire Service has never in good shape. Again, the media pointed out they needed equipment. The equipment were bought, but we found out the people who would operate those equipment didn’t know how to do that.”
He thanked the ICRC for organising the event and said exercises such as this would help journalists in Bangladesh as well as in the region.
“There are problems galore, especially in developing countries. And I believe exercises such as this help us share our experiences, learn new things and get better as professionals.”
“We did not have any experience of an earthquake of that magnitude in our life,” he said, “luckily we had internet connections.”
“We were inexperienced. We did not have that kind of training. We lost our mind and were trying to go through social media. But the problem was with the authenticity of those information. But we had no other option.
“Even our prime minister who was travelling at that time came to know of the disaster through the Indian prime minister’s tweets.”
“Twitter, Facebook became major news sources but they required verification and confirmation.”
He added that the earthquake had also turned them to campaigners from reporters with the help of the internet.
Paraan, who heads the citizen journalism arm of ABS-CBN, a leading broadcast media network in the Philippines, spoke of a 2009 massacre when many journalists were killed.
“The first image that came out was from a citizen journalist,” she said, adding that that image provided the first information of what had happened.
International editor of Australian news outlet SBS World News, Thomson gave a picture of how his country had dealt with the illegal migrants who took perilous journey by boat and how difficult it was to report in that situation. The Australian authorities used to push them to the camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Thompson said Nauru then imposed $8,000 visa fee for journalists so that they cannot travel and report on the miseries of the illegal migrants at those camps.
“Our role is to give voice to the voiceless and go beyond headlines. Media should be the vehicle of change.” He was emphatic in his observation that “we need to humanise the stories”.
“Our responsibility is to go beneath the stories and to tell compelling stories,” he said. “New media keeps mainstream media on its toes.”
Earlier, State Minister Shahriar Alam urged media to be “mindful” while reporting in crisis time since, in such situation things change quickly.
He also called upon media professionals to “refrain from negative reporting at the time of such crises, and uphold professionalism in performing their duties and responsibilities”.
Chairman of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society Hafiz Ahmed Majumder, Head of Delegation of ICRC Ikhtiyar Aslanov, Deputy Head of Mission Boris Kelecevic, Regional Public Relation Adviser Graziella Piccoli, and Head of Communication Omar Sharif Ghyasy also spoke in the daylong conference.
Diplomatic sources say this ICRC event was originally scheduled to be held in Pakistan. Due to security concerns, it was cancelled. Dhaka offered to host it and the proposal was accepted.