Power, responsibility and time to listen

I listened to the interviews and read with interest the media reports about the report from Survivors Against Terror on journalists and media reporting of terrorist incidents. It is a subject close to my heart for many reasons. I started my career as a journalist that would have been told to get the story. In the last two decades I have worked with people affected by crises and have seen the impact of the media on those affected by terrorist attacks. This report is long overdue and I sincerely hope that it starts a conversation that will lead to change.

There are many amazing journalists out there doing vital work highlighting crises, corruption and helping those in need bring their issue into public attention. But I truly believe they don’t always see the impact of what they do, what they say and how it affects people. The same can be said of the PR and communication professionals who will be writing statements today about a whole range of issues and incidents.

The recommendations and details within the report should be reviewed by anyone working within the media, PR or creative industries. It presents some harrowing examples of how people have been targeted by journalists desperate to get the story. Similar examples of the impact of crises over the years are in the book by Kjell Braatas that looks at ‘Managing the Human Dimension of Disasters’. When that was published earlier this year I encouraged people to read it and consider their crisis plans and responses.

So, where do we go from here? The report has rightly been covered in the media this morning and listening to former Sun editor David Yelland this morning on Radio 4 there is a recognition that change is happening. But for me the steps are being taken too slowly and those sadly caught up in the next terrorist incident are still likely to share similar experiences to those documented. Journalists, PR officers and communicators have a position of power. They find the words and images to sum up events that have taken place, and that brings with it great responsibility.

It is time for us all to listen, and I mean really listen, to what is being said before reflecting on what we have done in the past and how we work now. The one thing that should matter in developing a crisis response is to help the people who are affected. Not to decide what they need, but to listen and understand before acting. Crisis communication plans must change and together with emergency plans have to make a positive difference to those affected by the events.

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