Media coverage of recent overseas disasters has prompted generosity from UK donors, but more should be done to improve how emergencies are reported, according to new research carried out by Plan.
More than half of the public (56 per cent) have taken action after reading, watching or hearing media coverage of humanitarian disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti and floods in Pakistan.
Around a third of people donated money (36 per cent), nearly one in three discussed issues with others (29 per cent), and more than a quarter watched a documentary, or read an article (27 per cent).
“It is incredibly heartening that during tough financial times, the British public will still support people they have never met, in countries they have never visited, who may have lost everything in humanitarian disasters,” says CEO of Plan, Marie Staunton.
“2010 was dominated by two emergencies – the earthquake in Haiti and floods in Pakistan. I have seen how the generous support of people in the UK helped children survive these terrible events, and assisted their families in rebuilding their lives.”
Plan commissioned the research to find out more about public perceptions of the way newspapers, TV, radio and online sources report major disasters abroad.
Engaging young people
The 18-24 age group is much less likely to remember having seen, heard or read features about catastrophes overseas.
Around three quarters (77 per cent) of young people (18-24 year olds) recall reports about the Haiti earthquake, compared to 90 per cent of the whole population.
“I’m concerned that media coverage of major disasters like the Haiti earthquake does not appear to be reaching young people in the way it is reaching the general public,” says Mark Galloway of the International Broadcasting Trust.
“It’s important that we engage young people in the UK with what’s happening in the wider world and there’s a real danger that we now have a generation of young people growing up with a narrow view of what’s happening in the world.”
“Many young people are engaged and interested in International Affairs, but they get their news through other mediums such as social networks,” says 16-year-old Aakash Bharania from Plan’s Youth Advisory Panel.
“If broadcasters are able to show jargon-free news in a less formal style, they may be able to attract a younger audience.”
Overall, the British public has mixed views about the way the media covers disasters.
More than half of people (58 per cent) think stories about humanitarian emergencies are often too sentimental or sensationalist, when they should simply report the facts.
32 per cent try to avoid coverage of crises like earthquakes, floods and famines, as they find it too upsetting.
“Our research highlights a number of important questions for the media,” says Ms. Staunton.
“I have been to disaster zones and I have seen the effects with my own eyes; but when I talk to children I always come away with a new perspective. Telling their stories through broadcast, print or online sources could help to engage the British public.”