I must commend Ghana’s media practitioners in their response to emergencies and up-to-date information delivery during national emergencies.
In fact, at certain times, the media arrives at the scene of an emergency before state emergency response teams such as the Ghana National Fire Service, National Disaster Management organization (NADMO), Ghana Police service and others arrive.
This is not to belittle the efforts of our state agencies but to stress the need for improved rapid response.
The mention of improved rapid response brings to bear the numerous challenges state emergency teams face including unavailability of resources, limited staff and the usual “it was difficult locating the scene” or “the directions were scanty” or “we couldn’t identify the blue kiosk when we got to the junction”.
With the much-anticipated digital address system being rolled out, I believe these excuses will be history.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has recorded death of more than 1,000 journalists and media personnel over the past 10 years.
Eventhough most of these incidences were recorded at war zones, others were accidental and recorded at non-war/violent zones.
Injury rate is also high and it’s important that as media practitioners, we commit to the adherence of safety procedures in covering high-risk assignments because most of these accidents are avoidable.
It was disappointing to see media personnel covering the recent gas explosion at Accra’s Atomic Junction which claimed 7 lives and injured 132 people with no protective gear.
Some cameramen, reporters and drivers of media houses were seen at the scene in open toe slippers, chino shorts and t-shirts among others.
Others were in long and short sleeve shirts, bathroom slippers and sportswear. On the contrary, officers from the Ghana National Fire Service and other state emergency agencies were dressed in their protective gear.
As part of international best practices, scene commanders must prevent people without safety gears from entering condoned areas even if authorized by virtue of their position to enter. Unfortunately, so many people especially journalists were seen within the condoned areas with no safety gears.
In other countries, Safety Commanders provide temporal protective gears to journalists on accident and emergency scenes to facilitate their work because of the hazards inherent in accident reportage but this is nonexistent in Ghana.
It is therefore critical that as media practitioners, we are concerned about our safety and take personal efforts to promote it.
I asked a journalist why he was reporting with open toe slippers and no protective gear less than an hour after the recent gas explosion in Ghana’s capital city; Accra and his answer was that, “he was at home and had to rush to the scene”.
Irrespective of our desire to serve the public and the competing spirit with which we break news and update our viewers and listeners, safety must be our priority.
Research has proven that managements’ commitment to safety is a key factor in determining the safety behavior of staff.
Therefore, what measures have management of media firms put in place to protect staff during coverage of accident/emergencies? Are safety boots, safety helmets and other protective gears available for media staff especially those assigned to accident and emergency scenes? Do media owners invest in the training and retraining of staff on accident reporting?
Going forward, it must be acknowledged that emergencies are inevitable and I suggest the following 3 basic but important steps to protect media staff especially on-field staff who are assigned to accident and emergency zones;
1. Media owners must ensure the provision of basic personal protective equipment (PPE’s) such as helmets, safety boots, nose masks, goggles etc. for journalists and other media support staff. Strict sanctions must be applied to those who do not use them.
2. Media owners must provide frequent training for staff on accident reporting. In addition, management of news stations must select journalists amongst their team as special reporters on accidents and or emergencies, and ensure that such persons are equipped at all times to not only deliver the expected news reports but deliver them while complying with safety requirements.
Management of media companies can provide on-field staff with extra PPE’s to be kept in their homes and cars to enable them cover accidents on the spot.
3. Provide medical and life insurance cover. A very important element lacking in many of our media houses.
We must be mindful of the need to prevent accidents in our quest to report on other accidents. Our families and friends need us in full strength and good health.