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Information Communication and the Media

May 10, 2007

One of my fellow public health preparedness blogs posted a rather lengthy PowerPoint presentation the other day that fits into our discussion on the role of communicating during a crisis to the public, and I thought I would pass it along to all of you.

The presentation considers whether the media leads the government, or the government leads the media.  In other words, does social pressure from the media force the government to enact policy, or does the government encourage (and conversely, discourage) the media from acting and reporting on stories (read: the war in Iraq).  Eventually, it’s decided that there is some melding of the two.  Sometimes the media can whip up enough outrage to incite action; sometimes the government drops enough hints that reporters gobble up and think they’ve got a scoop.

I especially appreciate one quote attributed to former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright on Slide 6, “Aggression and atrocities are beamed into out living rooms and cars with astonishing immediacy.  No civilized human being can learn of these horrid acts occurring on a daily basis and stand aloof from them.”  Her argument is directed at the twenty-four hour newscycle, at the effect that the media can have on the populace.  The vast majority of information reported in a crisis, however, comes from government sources.  By bypassing the government to media figure funnel, more and more of those atrocities will come before the people’s eyes, forcing action.

The premise of the presentation breaks down when this third actor enters.  Assuming that there are only two actors in this equation, it might indeed be possible to cow the media, or force the hand of government officials.  When a third party gets involved, though, the calculus changes.  Celebrities have been known to call attention to issues, forcing the media’s attention, and ultimately the government’s hand.  In a crisis situation, a blogger with a cell phone video cam shooting raw footage of the scene will do the same thing.  The media will take note and splash it (see Part I) all over the news.  A well prepared EOC will see the footage from their many TV screens, and might be forced to shift tactics to alleviate that particular situation.  Conversely, an online report that a help is flooding into a specific sector and the emergency team is doing a great job could be pushed by an official at a presser, hopefully redirecting the media’s attention to a success story.

We live in a different world now, one in which those who traditionally controlled the levers of information can be left behind.  I tend to believe that the change will be radical, and those caught napping will be forced to deal with the repercussions at precisely the wrong time.

In any case, please allow this introduction to Kim, of Disaster Preparedness; and please check out the presentation for yourself here.

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