First Wednesday: the reporting of Haiti so far – are journalists getting it right?

February 3, 2010

Though some reporters may be guilty of over-oversimplifying the crisis left in wake of the Haiti earthquake, journalists can still aid the country’s reconstruction by reporting the truth on the ground.

That was the broad consensus from panelists at a lively First Wednedsday debate at the Frontline Club, who chewed over the complex business of getting aid to the people that need it and how to rebuild the country.

Here are audio interviews with three of our panelists on what they think of the media coverage of the situation so far…

Listen!

Back on the panel, BBC journalist Orin Gordon – who has for years reported from Haiti – said: "What the media does is simplify things very, very much… I’d say we’re all guilty of that." He pointed out, however, that the BBC was helping Haitians by setting up a Creole-language radio service based in Miami.

But reporters can play a positive role too: Astrid Zweynert, deputy editor of the Reuters-owned AlertNet news service, warned that the extreme class divide in Haiti could be widen even further by the earthquake and said she hoped "this is where the media has a role to play."

The challenge for journalists now, according to Christian Wisskirchen from the Haiti Support Group, is to make sure that the voice of real Haitians is heard, ahead of the forthcoming conference of donor nations in New York. "All this stuff you will hear nothing about unless people give a voice to the peasant co-operatives, women’s groups and everyone in Haiti needs to be heard."

There was no disagreement that the task facing Haiti is massive – with aid bottlebecks, a lack of communications and an unanswered need to properly audit and account for the vast sums of aid dollars flowing in daily.

Some panelists and crowd members highlighted a sinister side to the US military’s lead role in stabilising and rebuilding the country. "I think the neo-colonial metaphor is quite good," said Peter Hallward, a professor of modern European philosophy at Middlesex University and an author on Haiti.

"The powers that be pushed the military agenda quite hard early on… they controlled the airport early on, they used the resoucres they had they used in terms of what can be secured."

Hallward went further and said the US-led forces’ attempts to control the country were outweighing the emergency efforts to distribute aid and rebuild Haiti. The US army looked for "places you could put a fence around with a bunch of guys with guns… the rest were left in the rubble."

Here’s our podcast from the evening:


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