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Journalist Fellows' Papers
Journalism & Democracy Practice of Journalism

A reporting disaster? The interdependence of media and aid agencies in a competitive compassion market

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Monika Kalcsics, a freelance radio journalist and producer for the Austrian broadcaster ORF who has also worked as an emergency aid worker for the Caritas network, has chosen to examine the often fraught relationship between the NGO world and the media.

In her paper, A reporting disaster? The interdependence of media and aid agencies in a competitive compassion market, Monika aims to address several key questions about the changing nature of the relationship, including whether the public is getting ethical information when reporters and aid workers are so dependent on each other in a disaster zone. Monika bases her research on her own experience in the field and the available literature, but also on a series of illuminating interviews with journalists and communication managers working for aid agencies. She shows how the relationship feeds a content-hungry disaster news market, with the role of NGOs increasingly that of citizen journalists.  She also examines how journalists are increasingly immersed in the field with the help of an NGO – a practice known as “beneficent embedding”. She then discusses the consequences of the relationship between media and NGOs for ethical reporting. Are we getting ethical content from aid agencies and the media? Can the whole story be told? If not, why not? What are the concerns of reporters and aid workers? 

Monika believes that disaster reporting will be more essential than ever in the future, because disasters have consequences in an interconnected world. ‘The internet has shrunk the world’, she writes. We now see pictures of despair instantly, through diverse communication technologies, and hear unmediated voices from chaotic situations. People travel more these days and may well have experience of countries in which disasters unfold. And there will in future be more disputes over vital resources we all share, such as water, food, oil and habitable land.

She concludes that with the changing nature of reporting these disasters, and the changing relationship between NGOs and the media, complex issues arise. She argues that aid agencies and the media can fulfil their role as a source of information and deliverer of content, but only if they incorporate into their work the concepts of accuracy, sincerity and hospitality. ‘These three standards can serve as a base to transport ethical information from a disaster area.’

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.

Image: REUTERS/Jorge Adorno