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Summary of a discussion in Burkina Faso: Collecting and processing information in a security crisis

To plan and deliver radio programs well, broadcasters need to collect information—information about their communities and their needs, and information about the topics they will cover on air. But crises make collecting and processing information more difficult.

We talked about the issue of gathering information during security crises as part of a discussion in our WhatsApp group of broadcasting partners in Burkina Faso. From August 15 to 19, 2022, Amidou Kabré facilitated a five-day discussion, with the support of experienced journalist specialist Abdoulaye Ouattara.

The discussion dealt with subjects such as: the status of collecting and processing information by radio stations in security crises; roles and responsibilities of radio journalists in gathering and processing information in security crises; and access to sources of information.

Some regions of Burkina Faso have experienced insecurity since 2011, and the instability, conflict, and violence have affected access to sources and collecting information in those regions. In this situation, there can be confusion about the roles of journalists, politicians, and even the average person. 

Our discussion showed that information related to security issues cannot be treated like other kinds of information. We often talk about the social responsibility of the journalist. In the current situation, this responsibility is owed to those who died and their bereaved families, who often learn of the death of their loved ones on the airwaves. But journalists’ role in the event of a violent attack is also to contribute to reducing the chaos,  inertia, and immediate consequences of terrorism on those impacted. More than ever, in the event of a terrorist attack, journalists said their mission is to inform the public. 

Journalists in the discussion felt that their responsibility is to evaluate the relevance of the information they provide, both in terms of the usefulness of the information, as well as the calming effect it can have on the local population. 

Participants acknowledged that women often have good information to share on air. But it is difficult to collect their testimonies. Letting women know that their contributions are important can make the difference in encouraging a woman to share, and offering her the opportunity to speak anonymously can also help.

Before the end of the discussion, we covered how to stay safe while carrying out broadcasting work in areas in crisis. The journalist’s social responsibility is significant, but it does not extend to endangering their life or that of others because of the information they share. If journalists receive threats, they should inform the person in charge of the radio station and then possibly the authorities.

Some takeaways from the discussion: Despite the security situation in Burkina Faso, some radio stations continue to share information about terrorism in an effort to keep their community informed. But radio stations in areas with strong security challenges cannot provide all kinds of information. Some journalists experience threats, intimidation, manipulation, and false alarms. In these situations, journalists must evaluate the importance, the necessity, the impact, and the need for information, never trust those around them during telephone communications, as well as control who they associate with and what they say in public places. In case of an attack, the first thing to do is determine if the situation is under control and that you are not putting yourself in danger by going to the site of the attack. Respect the safety instructions given by authorities.