How to find shelter, access food, or get medical care: In times of distress, knowledge can be critical for survival. Local media has a crucial role to play in providing the information people urgently need.
More than 100 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, violence, persecution, and human rights violations – more than at any other time since World War II.
People affected by displacement need access to relevant and trustworthy information to make informed decisions about their next steps: Where is it safe for me to go? How do I get access to health services? Can my family join me? People's safety and their future livelihoods depend on these choices. At the same time, people affected by crises are themselves a vital source of information for humanitarian actors. What is the situation in the crisis area? Which solutions have proven successful on the ground, and where is help still needed?
"In crisis situations, the communication between groups affected and response actors is fundamental for survival, just as food and water are," says FanMan Tsang, Communications Expert at Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network. "Online searches are easy but the information there needs to be checked to make sure it's accurate, representative and comprehensive. This takes time and expertise."
This is where media and their established communication channels can help. Journalists are trained to collect, analyze, verify, and share information with people seeking answers. They have local expertise and an existing infrastructure and relationship with their audience. In crisis situations, people tend to turn to the sources they already know and trust.
With conflict-sensitive and well-balanced reporting, local media can also help to counter rumors and contribute to balanced viewpoints. This can be particularly important in and around refugee camps, where people of different nationalities, religions, ethnicities, and social backgrounds come together.
In Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp and the Kalobeyei integrated settlement, access to information can be difficult. There is often no affordable or easy access to the internet, TV, or radio. It is challenging to share information that it is understood, trusted, and responded to.
Against this backdrop, displaced people are training to become community reporters to answer the questions of those around them. Amidst low literacy rates, young refugees and people from the host community learn to produce and share audio content with practical, local information.
The project is called Sikika, which means 'to be heard' in Kiswahili. As part of the project, residents of the settlements come together in listener groups to discuss the content and share direct feedback with community reporters.
This way both listeners and community reporters can voice their concerns and be heard, which empowers many of them to take charge of their lives and actively shape society. As many community reporters have themselves been directly or indirectly affected by displacement, they know the concerns of their community and enjoy their trust.
"Placing the affected person at the center and enabling them to produce the information and act as the communicator, positively disrupts information hierarchies and breaks down social constructions that marginalize people further," writes Hannah Murphy, a humanitarian advocacy and communication expert, who conducted research on freedom of expression and information access for displaced people.
A genuine partnership with displaced communities should consist of shared decision-making, balancing power, and providing funds and capacity building to enable local media initiatives to take root.
Relying on the expertise and relationships of local media, international organizations can put peoples' information needs and their safety at the center of their crisis response, while avoiding seeing media outlets as a mere channel for disseminating prepared information.
Media Landscape Guides
To support international humanitarian organizations with crucial information in times of crisis, the NGO Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities Network (CDAC) and DW Akademie have published Media Landscape Guides: reports that provide data on trusted news sources, the country's media and information ecosystem, and on best ways to channel information to specific demographic groups.
So far, nine Media Landscape Guides have been published: for Afghanistan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Colombia, the Palestinian Territories, Malawi, Morocco, Pakistan, and Ukraine. The reports are available in English and other most commonly spoken languages in the areas.
For years, DW Akademie has encouraged discussions on freedom of expression and information access for displaced people. These discussions have now been distilled into eight recommendations.
DW Akademie supports information services by and for displaced people in South Asia, qualifies media practitioners and experts there and promotes dialogue with host communities.
Which information do people need when a disaster hits? How can relief organizations reach them? CDAC's FanMan Tsang says that knowing the country's media sector is key for communicating in a crisis.