14 مهر 1391

How did journalists cover Azerbaijan earthquake?

Are we journalists or aid worker

5 October 2012

Reported by Niki Azad

Translated by Rose Arjmand

Khabarnegaran.info-The latest earthquake in Azerbaijan located in northwestern Iran left many dead and wounded. The financial burden of this earthquake was also devastating. However, this earthquake became the most controversial earthquake in the county because of its media coverage. The criticism to the weak news coverage of the earthquake was not limited to state-run media; independent journalists were also attacked too.

Criticism to the state-run media was not surprising because it did not cover it thoroughly and even until long time after that the incident the reports did not have precise data about it. Yet, users at social networks pointed their criticism at independent journalists too. They believe the independent journalists exaggerated what actually happened. A journalist wrote on his Facebook wall: “before I travelled to Azerbaijan, I expected to find my way across corps. When I arrive aid workers were working.” This journalist believes the independent journalists exaggerated what was going on and it mislead many people.

A number of journalists said they when they arrived in Azerbaijan for reporting the earthquake, they put their main responsibility aside and helped the victims. Critics adopted two different approaches towards this attitude. Some say those reporters were armature and forgot their main responsibility which was reporting what was happening. Other critics say when victims are receiving help and people’s lives are in danger, how can a journalist only witness and do not help others.

Veteran journalists report realer pictures at scene

SasanAghayi, journalists, travelled to Azerbaijan at the time of the earthquake. He said: “experience makes abig difference in reporting. Reporters, who have covered the earthquake in Bam in Kerman Province, found the rescue and aid works moving; but according to amateur reporters the aid work was very weak.”

Aghayi added: “the news websites and news agencies abroad are to be blamed too. They report news before they make sure it is credible. I understand that they have limited sources to access news in Iran, but we must bear in mind that screening and monitoring news are necessary in journalism.”

I’m more of a photojournalist than aid worker

A photojournalist who had travelled to Azerbaijan immediately after the earthquake said that he travelled there with an upsetting mind-set due to the disturbing news he read before his trip. He stated: “our colleague exaggerated in the news coverage. When I travelled there I took medical equipment instead of my camera and photography equipment. After I arrived I realised it was mistake. I could have saved more time in uploading and reporting the news if I took all my photography equipment. At some points aid workers asked people and journalists to do not intefer in their job. I kept reporting the image in progress to help others to understand what was going on in the scene exactly.

I stayed away from humanitarian aids

SasanAghayi says he travelled with his “journalistic backpack” filled with full equipment but it did not keep him away from helping the people at the earthquake-stricken region. He told Khabarnegaran.info: “all of us travelled with our journalistic backpack, meaning journalism was our main priority. We had our laptops and tablets but because we didn’t know how sever the situation would be, we filled the trunk our cars with necessary stuff.”

Aghayi who has ten years of experience in journalism says: “we never interfered in the ‘rescue engineering’. We drove to various villages to report the damages the earthquake caused and without forgetting journalism was our main priority, distributed water, blanket, food or medicine.”

Journalists had to become aid workers

Some journalists, though, strongly believe that they had to help with the humanitarian aids. An independent journalist agreed to talk to us about the news coverage under the condition of anonymity. She says: “independent journalists appeared at the scene immediately. People did not have access to drinking water until 18 hours after the earthquake. Red Crescent aid workers arrived 24 hours after the earthquake. And I haven’t even included remote villages that only helicopter could take humanitarian aids there. If you find the news coverage of the earthquake flawed, do not blame journalists; you should put the blame on the shoulders of the telecommunication company that did not provide us with enough bridges and good networks to report the news on time.”

She adds: “we have not trained our journalists for crises. Reporters at various desks like international affairs, politics and humanities were sent to the region. Also language was an issue because many of the journalists spoke Persian and in Azerbaijan some people only speak Turkish. Not many of us could communicate with people without a translator. We should consider many aspects of the matter before we send reporters to different areas.”

Aghayi added: “in general independent journalists did a great job in raising people’s awareness as a national disaster. There are problems in between because we do not have a good education system in teaching journalism to our students.”

He states: “I admire independent journalists’ role in covering the earthquake news. A handful of journalists in the region were affiliated to a news agency or a news website. More than 20 journalists were independent, which is very admiring and must be appreciated. Most of us travelled there with our money without our managers knowing any about it or promising any support from the newspapers budget. It might not seem professional to some people; but if we haven’t done that, we would have been uninformed and would be blinded with the wrong and incomplete news broadcast by state-run media or other official news agencies.”

Aghayiconcludes: “such independent journalism showed us a clearer picture of the earthquake. Love of journalism and people’s morals keeps us informed.”

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