A Day of Contrasts

Public service broadcasters of every size and shape are here in Brisbane: rich, poor, large, small and everything in between. One plan to deal with emergencies might work for one PSB, but not for others yet all of them agree that getting information out as quickly as possible in times of crisis is crucial. Let’s start off with the BBC: the biggest broadcaster in the world. Peter Horrocks, Director of Global News, kept it simple. “Getting the right information out at the right time saves lives”. He explained that when disaster strikes, it’s not the time to probe: “Don’t worry about asking those tough questions.” Instead concentrate on providing information, he said, and don’t worry about repeating it because someone, somewhere will hear it for the first time.

NHK in Japan has made 2 major changes to the way it operates since last year’s tsunami. Firstly, it doesn’t rely too heavily on weather predictions, and secondly the traditionally calm and dispassionate newsreaders are now trained to deliver a message much more boldly. Rather than advising people politely to leave their homes in an emergency, they’re now getting to the point: “Just run away from tsunami NOW!” NHK’s Yuji Inou said with a sad smile, “I’ve seen my colleagues practise shouting that!” In contrast to Japan’s hi-tech, almost instantaneous tsunami warnings, Tonga’s Nanise Fifita,  described how her small team have to deal with the basics such as making sure their generator is maintained and there’s enough fuel. No BBC-like “gold, silver and bronze” emergency plan for self funded, Tonga Broadcasting Commission.

The reason why professional broadcasters are gathered together in Brisbane really hit home when Radio New Zealand International played an interview recorded in Samoa when a tsunami struck in 2009. A woman described in a quaky voice, sometimes close to tears, how her neighbour was swept out to sea. Although he picked up his baby just in time, they both died. Then her husband grabbed the neighbour’s two remaining children and ran. A wave ripped one of them from his arms, but he managed to throw the other one onto high ground: to just land where it fell.  The child and the woman’s husband survived. They’d made it.

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