Global Media Forum: Standpoints on crisis communication | DW Akademie in Germany | DW | 25.06.2015
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Global Media Forum: Standpoints on crisis communication

How should civil society and journalists communicate in times of conflict? Can crises be avoided if there’s effective communication? DW Akademie trainers and coordinators shared their views at a workshop we held.

Transparent communication between politicians, media workers and members of civil society is especially crucial during crises and conflicts. But often the flow of information falters, with journalists being threatened, citizens mistrusting journalists, and journalists, in turn, mistrusting politicians. At a DW Akademie workshop held at the Global Media Forum 2015, experts discussed their experiences on communication in conflict situations.

Sandra van Edig, DW Akademie project manager for Niger and Morocco
People won't have a voice if journalists are not trained

Africa is a continent in transition. It's a dynamic time marked by economic and social changes as well as climate change - and these bring tensions and conflicts. These crises don't just refer to the international crises and wars reported by the media - they also include daily disputes that involve fatalities and other tragedies that sow the seeds for further crises. This is where media should play a preventative role.

I've been working on projects in Niger for several years and have found that national and local media don't often assume this preventative role. From discussions with colleagues and my own experience conducting numerous trainings, I have come to believe media workers often do want to give a voice to people affected by conflicts. But they are often afraid of stoking these conflicts - especially during tense times - and lack skills in conflict-sensitive reporting. As a result, those affected aren't given a voice.

But the situation can improve if media workers are sensitized. Media, especially local media, need conflict reporting skills so that they can give people a voice and also adopt a decisive role in preventing crises. This is why DW Akademie has been running a conflict-sensitive reporting project in Niger since 2012, which is financed by Germany's Federal Foreign Office.

Kyryl Savin, DW Akademie country coordinator for Ukraine
Having people's trust is the greatest gift that a politician or statesman can have

That's why it's essential for a country's political elite to communicate transparently, especially during crises and difficult processes in democratic transformations. The Maidan uprising was due largely to the clumsy, non-transparent and inconsistent information policy of the former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainians felt betrayed when he didn't sign the European Union association agreement and hit the streets in protest. The new president, Petro Poroshenko, appears to be making the same mistakes in his communications with the public. His government's current communication strategy is ambiguous. Most Ukrainian TV stations broadcast biased reports and offer little criticism of the war in Donbass. Civil society is suffering as a result and so Ukraine's next internal political crisis is inevitable.

Gerlind Vollmer, DW Akademie trainer for conflict-sensitive communication
"If speech is silver then silence is gold" - a meaningless expression when it comes to crisis communication

In March 2014, a cruise ship docked at the port of La Goulette in the Tunisian capital. But tourists from Israel, who were looking forward to visiting the city's medina, weren't allowed to disembark. International media pounced on the case, which severely damaged the reputation of Tunisia, a country dependent on tourism. Although Tunisia's Ministry of the Interior was responsible for communication about such matters, its press department only reacted after tensions increased. It chose to do so with a brief Facebook post stating 14 tourists had not been allowed to set foot on Tunisian territory because they hadn't met the visa requirements for entering the country.

In the end, it turned out that the shipping company was at fault because it had failed to apply for a "laissez-passer" pass that allows cruise ship passengers to disembark. Had the interior ministry immediately responded and clarified the facts, the international media would not have been so quick to jump on the case with such indignation. This is an example of why, when it comes to communication in politically unstable environments - and especially when it comes to crisis communication - the proverb should be changed to read: "If speech is golden then silence is anything but silver."

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