By S Banerjee: BBC Media Action is the International development organization of the BBC, set up to use media to address some of the biggest challenges facing developing countries and countries in political transition. In India, the BBC Media Action is working nationally, having developed content in eight languages and reaching out to around 25 million people annually. The BBC Media Action focuses on three thematic areas in India: health, resilience and governance.
The BBC Media Action uses learning and experiences from both the commercial and the social sectors to create communication that connects with people at an emotional level and create innovations that help people change their lives for the better. The Media Action works with both urban and rural audiences.
In the past, the BBC Media Action has been the creative agency for National AIDS Control in India. It developed several TV and radio campaigns on condoms. It also did campaigns on blood safety like ‘Little Girl’, which was hugely successful across the country.
In the thematic area of resilience, the BBC Media Action Plan harnesses the power of the media to help people who are vulnerable to shocks, disasters and long time stress to cope with the changing environment. In India, the BBC Media Action works on ‘Lifeline Programming’ which provides critical lifesaving information to disaster affected populations. Lifeline programming is a special media programming for communities affected by humanitarian crisis. It aims to provide people with timely, relevant and practical information to alleviate their suffering and assist them to recover. Lifeline programming also aims to give affected people the opportunity to voice their concerns, express their needs, share their stories and hold humanitarian aid providers to account.
The BBC Media Action recently completed ‘Climate Asia’ which was the largest ever study of peoples’ experiences of climate changes in seven countries—Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam. The unique data provides information for Governments, donors, the media, NGO’s and everyone who wants to support people to adapt to their changing environment.
Odisha has been one of the states where the BBC Media Action programme is focusing strongly. When cyclone Phailin struck Odisha in October’2013, BBC Media Action worked with local Radio stations to produce short announcements that were on air within 72 hours. They provided advice on issues such as how to make contaminated water safe to drink. The Media Action programme is working in Odisha for the last three and half years. Going by the recent spurt of natural disasters, the BBC Media Action, in a new venture, has formulated a one year pilot project in Uttarakhand and Odisha to see how media and communication helps build resilience and preparedness for humanitarian response during disasters and natural calamities. The project is at a nascent experimental stage of study.
Under this pilot project, a workshop on media sensitization on Lifeline programming was organized by the BBC Media Action at Bhubaneswar on 23rd of March. Rajesh Jamuar led the BBC Media Action team and he was assisted by Climate Asia Project Officers, Rishika Das Roy, Bindi Thakkar and Parambrahma Tripathy. A motley mix of print, electronic as well as broadcasting mediapersons attended the workshop.
N.A. Shah Ansari, Editor of ‘Namaskar’, a Community Newspaper and Chairperson of ‘Radio Namaskar’, attended the workshop with his team and contributed largely to make this programme a huge success. Among others, Journalists Amjad Badshah, Jayashree Pahadsingh and Human Rights Activist Akhand were part of the workshop.
The workshop drove home the value of two way communication during times of crisis. It was revealed that communication at such times becomes a life saving aid as it provides vital information to support the people to stay healthy, participate more in civic life, become more resilient and survive in emergencies. The workshop brought to fore the difference between Lifeline programming and day to day journalism. Moving away from routine journalism, Lifeline programming is essentially for the affected people and not about them as it must offer something that will in some way help them cope with or improve their situation.
The mediapersons attending the workshop were not only briefed but were made to undergo an array of joint exercises to react and communicate in a crisis situation. It was an excellent way to let the media discover the wonderful territory and scope of Lifeline programming which not only becomes a requirement at the time of crisis but also a social responsibility on part of the media.
Giving due significance to this workshop, The Editor-in-Chief of ONI (Odisha News Insight), Sagar Satapathy, himself attended this workshop along with this Senior Correspondent, and it was a huge learning experience as in understanding the great role that media can play in such times of adversity. In the wake of disaster, people need timely and accurate information to help them decide what to do as much as they need food, water, shelter and medical care. People need answers to many questions as ‘what to do?’, ‘what is in store?’, ‘what help is coming?’, ‘where is my family?’, ‘what are the safe routes to travel?’, ‘how to get protection?’… and so on. The media can deliver this kind of life saving information rapidly and on a mass scale. Lifeline programming may reach affected communities days or even weeks before aid workers are able to do so. It can provide vital reassurance to people who are confused, traumatized and isolated. This was the most vital take-away message from the workshop.
The BBC Media Action has recognized the significant role that the media can play at times of adversity. The workshop was an excellent opportunity for the media persons of Odisha to grasp the same for rising to it when the situation demands.