Disaster relief is crucial for well-being.

Disaster relief is crucial for well-being.


In the last six weeks, disasters have affected a nation of Australians who are managing multiple climatic disasters at the one time. These disasters include a record number of bushfires, floods, hail storms, dust storms and damaging winds.

One of the main problems affecting Canberra, the capital of Australia, this summer is air quality. The sky is thick with grey-yellow smoke and the smell of burning wood lingers. The fire burn-off to prevent further fires renders the sky dark brown with a purplish hue. It looks as if Francis Ford Coppola had arranged a scene in ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) for the next movie season.

Trauma and reporting bushfires

Media have a crucial role when reporting on natural disasters. There is also a need to be mindful of the trauma faced by the people we speak to and the audiences we inform. Journalists must also look after themselves when working amid traumatic situations.

The US-based DART Centre for Journalism & Trama Asia-Pacific has resources for covering bushfires to assist journalists carrying out their reporting duties, self-care tips for journalists exposed to traumatic events, information on how journalists should work with victims and survivors in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and tips for editors and managers to help them support their reporters.

This situation is not only relevant when addressing issues affecting members of the public. All Media section members of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) in Australia must observe their obligations under clause 11 of the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics: “Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.”

Some internationally based media are also getting to grips with the Australian situation, such as the BBC UK: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-51338314 i#Z1Av&npDnS)SWl

Joe Hight from the Dart Center provides a Tip Sheet on ‘Self-Care Amid Disaster’ for journalists and editors stuck indoors reporting on man-made and natural disasters. This lists was produced in 2005 but is helpful for professionals who are on the receiving end of disaster news while at work.  This list is available at https://dartcenter.org/content/self-care-amid-disaster.

In short, to paraphrase Joe Hight, all newsroom staff involved in the coverage should be encouraged to:

• Leave the desk and take a brief break. Look outside to check that the sun is still shining and life still continues.

• Try deep breathing. That is to say: take long, slow, deep breaths to the count of five, then exhale slowly to the count of five. Imagine breathing out excess tension and breathing in relaxation.”

• Talk to a person you trust about how you’re feeling during these ‘difficult’ times. … Perhaps it’s someone who has faced a similar experience.

• Exercise can be a great stress reducer. Therefore, take a walk in a park or go to the gym for a workout.

• Do something that relaxes you or provides you with relief from the work pressures.

• Eat correctly. … and here’s another tip: If you can manage it, get plenty of quality sleep.

As Joe Hight suggests, and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) keep reminding journalists, if your problems become overwhelming, seek counselling from a professional. In other words, for references – see above.

Copyright of text: Fiona Rothchilds 2020, Joe Hight 2005, MEAA 2020.
Text uploaded 30 January 2020

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