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Embrace humanitarian journalism in reporting disasters – ZUJ

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Nozipho Rutsate

Following a series of disasters and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, solutions-based and humanitarian journalism came under the spotlight after training conducted by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists with reporters in the Midlands Province.

The training focused on Reporting Disaster Risk Reduction and Public health Emergencies in Zimbabwe, under the theme: Strengthening the role of the media in support of accountable governance and community development in Zimbabwe under the ZimMedia21 programme.

Narrating ordeals that continue to be experienced by survivors of Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani’s Kopa camp, Sunday Mail features writer, Leroy Dzenga testified to the impact solutions journalism has on people’s lives.

“Someone came to my Facebook inbox and asked me how they could reach a lady from an article I wrote about a woman who still suffers from the costs of Cyclone Idai. I called the lady for her consent and then she shared her contact. She called to give feedback saying she had received some money sufficient for a few weeks’ basic supplies for her family. This is why I write.” Dzenga said.

For Alexander Rusero, an independent researcher on journalism, media and politics who facilitated the training, gradually, the world is transitioning towards journalism unusual.

“Journalists of this day should take charge albeit observing journalism ethics and standards. There is a need for a paradigm shift from symbolizing the media, known to be the fourth estate, as a mirror that reflects the society to journalism that plays the remedy role through bringing to attention issues that need to be addressed. This empathy will help to curb suffering and minimize harm,” Rusero said.

Newsday correspondent from Midlands and ZUJ National Executive member, Stephen Chadenga shared similar sentiments as he referred to the current reporting of the COVID-19 pandemic based on statistical data and effects of the pandemic on public life.

“Our understanding of covering disasters was mainly focused upon painting that gloomy picture of its effects and impact. At some point, we turn a blind eye on the needs of citizens during a crisis to include access to information, social protection or aid and essential services such as health because disasters impact heavily on public health services, forgetting it’s the very community we serve,’ said Chadenga.

Dr Wellington Gadzikwa, a Harare-based journalism lecturer, media trainer, analyst and author said it is the role of journalists to put a human face on the pandemic and any other disaster.

“People should be able to relate well to information about disasters through the media playing an effective role in information dissemination to be able to leave people wiser and hopeful and not afraid. Journalism must work for and serve the people for this is their essential service to society,” he said.

When interviewed by Commutalk after the training, Yeukai Munetsi, a young female journalist from Gweru said in times of emergencies and disasters, the profession is being called to embrace the humanitarian imperative.

“From all my learning experiences, journalism was all about narrating events as they unfold and have never thought that journalists cease to be mere chronicles of news but are key players in providing solutions,” Munetsi said.

Kwekwe-based journalist and Community Voices Zimbabwe Editor, Partinella Ngozo familiarized the “Ubuntu” concept in reporting disasters coupled with investigative journalism.

“Sometimes journalists may leave victims dying in trying to capture their scoop in fear of their safety. We have an assumption that coverage of an issue would help a community more than a journalist helping people in the aftermath. It is high time we change our reporting to best serve our communities and our mandate to relay information to the public.

“Factual and contextualized reporting also is a powerful tool in addressing disaster fatigue and the politicization of science. Such reporting advances careful and thoughtful responses to crises rather than rash reporting based in hysteria or sensationalism,” Ngozo said.

A local broadcast journalist from ZBC, Tafara Chikumira said the workshop was an eye-opener as it touched on some of the pertinent issues journalists encounter during their line of duty.

“Critical issues came out particularly on how journalists are treated during a disaster. Journalists were the last to be considered as Frontline workers during Covid-19 yet people need accurate information on how to deal with a pandemic that can be relayed fast through various media outlets. It also emerged that as journalists there is need to probe further than the usual official comments during a disaster most importantly with regards to public policy issues,” said Chikumira.

Elizabeth Mashiri, a female journalist from The Mirror said humanitarian reporting should be gendered.

“In every disaster, women and girls are the most affected and with the rise of sexual harassment cases in newsrooms, there is a need for media bodies to pull resources for female journalists to go into the field and report on emergencies and disasters because women can relate more to empathizing with victims,” she said.

Weighing in on the training, Gweru Times Provincial Reporter and MISA Chairperson for Midlands, Norman Dururu said local journalists were not well equipped to report on flash floods that occurred early this year due to lack of training.

“Our role as the media was to update people on what council and the provincial protection unit was doing to alleviate the suffering of affected citizens during flash floods in Gweru by offering temporary shelter. It was a difficult period as we had not much training or information. This training was something that we have been waiting for as we are in different periods of emergencies and disasters,” he said.

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