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NGO accuses Zim media of depoliticizing humanitarian stories
April 04, 2013
NGO has accused local media of ‘taking the sting out of humanitarian
stories’ to protect politicians from public scrutiny. Virginia
Muwanigwa, a veteran journalist and director of the Humanitarian
Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC) said this development
has trivialized pertinent issues affecting the general population,
and affects the country’s preparedness for humanitarian disasters.
stories do not connect what prominent people say to our everyday
life,” said Muwanigwa. She defined humanitarian reporting
as stories on issues and situations that threaten the health, safety,
security or well being of a community. “When the humanitarian
issues are covered, the stories are divorced from the statements
of politicians and how they connect to development and affect the
general public,” she said, noting that when adequately reported
these stories should and could support preparedness of future crises.
During her presentation
on the politics of humanitarian reporting in Zimbabwe at a Food
for Thought discussion session at the United States Embassy’s
Public Affairs Section on Tuesday, Muwanigwa discussed the importance
of highlighting ordinary people's issues and ways to improve their
situations. “Humanitarian reporting is not seen as important
because it starts to challenge the power of prominent people over
ordinary people, it also looks at analyzing people’s power
to demand certain things and looks at how people can make those
in authority accountable.”
HIFC was established
in 2009 to address an urgent need to streamline the flow of information
from the humanitarian sector to the general public and decision
makers. Muwanigwa outlined the experience of her four-year old organization
working to encourage journalists to write more stories on humanitarian
issues. She said there was inadequate understanding of humanitarian
stories in the media and a lack of skills in development reporting;
she noted journalists often opt for event-based stories with little
to no background.
of the times when people hear humanitarian reporting, they are thinking
of crisis – Muzarabani floods and other natural disasters.
But as HIFC we are looking at a continuum, not just crisis…
our objective is to see journalists start to talk about certain
things that could become crises in the future in a way that enables
people to make relevant decisions,” said Muwanigwa.
experience with media non-governmental organizations spans 19 years,
noted that the reason there was a poor understanding of humanitarian
issues by the media was because of a general mistrust between NGOs
and the media. But this can change, she explained, “Media
and NGOs both have a role to play in development and HIFC works
to link the media and NGOs facilitating information sharing. NGOs
have the primary information that media cannot get, but there has
been fear of how that information might be used by the media once
the need to encourage humanitarian desks that can report and analyze
development issues such as climate change, water and sanitation
issues, as well as health.
Since its establishment,
HIFC says it has assisted humanitarian non-governmental organizations
in developing effective communication strategies to increase the
flow of humanitarian information to journalists through consultative
stakeholder meetings and knowledge briefs. In addition, HIFC has
provided grants to journalists to investigate and write stories
coupled with a robust mentoring program designed to transfer skills
and sustain reporting on humanitarian issues.
organization regretted not including journalism training institutions
at the beginning, a challenge she said they were now addressing
by working with the Harare Polytechnic School of Journalism and
other journalism training institutions through development of training
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