By Latrishka Thomas
Media practitioners from all over the Caribbean recently completed a two-day workshop which took place in Antigua and Barbuda on Monday and Tuesday.
The workshop, which was held under the theme “Children in the face of disaster”, served as a refresher on the protocol for journalists who are reporting during a disaster or are investigating vulnerable members of the population, such as children.
One of the key presenters at the workshop, Co-Editor of Barbados Today, Julius Gittens, shared the importance of the event with the participants.
“Our job is to ensure that our populations are prepared to cope with a disaster. It could be a hurricane, it could be an earthquake, flood or other hazards. To stop those hazards from becoming disasters, we need to be prepared and we need to prepare ourselves first to be informed, to be educated about the science, whether it’s climate change or volcanoes or earthquakes or whatever hazards there are in our particular countries, we need to be prepared to communicate that calmly, dispassionately, soberly, intelligently to our audiences,” he said.
Gittens pointed out that “the media are a vital conduit of information” and said: “we have to be credible, reliable and comprehensive so we need our audiences to rely on us…so the whole purpose of this exercise to make sure that we are prepared.”
According to the veteran journalist, a protocol for disaster management must be established among all media houses even it requires a joining of forces.
“The first thing that journalists across the Caribbean and their media managers need to do is to have a plan. The plan might simply be at the level of a small station that plays music, but you might just want to join the national station if you don’t have a standby generator. You may need to do something as simple as that.
“Critical personnel that are going to be on the air, how are they going to be fed, watered cared for while the station itself becomes a hurricane shelter,” Gittens said.
Meanwhile, the Barbados Today co-editor urged media workers to avoid depending solely on international sources for weather information.
“I understand the attraction of a weather channel or a CNN or a meteorologist with nice fancy graphics telling a story of a hurricane but they are not going to be invested in the specificity of local information that your national weather outfit has,” he stated.
He also noted that as weather advisories are refreshed every six hours and intermediate advisories, every three hours, that “perhaps the media needs to do a better job of repeating that information more frequently as the system nears, so that people are very clear of where it is, not just regurgitating it but understanding the path, likely impacts, what are the most deeply affected areas, low lying areas.”
He added that that kind of specified information “you will never get from any other entity.”
Over 20 media professionals from Dominica, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, British Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and Grenada attended the sessions which opened at the Jolly Beach Resort and culminated in a visit to Barbuda.
The workshop was conducted by the Association of Caribbean Media workers and UNICEF.