Bournemouth University has played a key role in setting up a network of journalists in Nepal, which aims to strengthen the country’s news media in the face of natural disasters.
The Disaster Journalism Network (DJN) was launched with an online event, and involves six media houses in Nepal: Discovery Magazine, Fresh News Nepal, Mahilanews.com, Safalta Media, Adsar Samaj Bahumukhi Prakashan, and Radio Mukti 95.5.
Against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the DJN aims to bring together journalists and media groups to strengthen disaster resilience in the journalism industry, while also aiding crisis preparedness through public service reporting.
"This is Nepal’s first network that focuses specifically on disaster preparedness," said Dr Chindu Sreedharan, principal investigator of RIENMMR, BU’s Covid-related rapid response research and capacity building project that supported DJN. "The creation of such networks was a key recommendation that emerged from Aftershock Nepal, a post-earthquake study that we conducted in Nepal."
Professor Einar Thorsen, who co-directed both RIENMMR and Aftershock Nepal with Dr Sreedharan, spoke about the importance of the new network to Nepal’s media system.
"The DJN is an important development in terms of newsroom resilience and capacity building," he said. "It embraces disaster resilience in an expansive way, going beyond mere physical resilience, to acknowledge the need for editorial preparedness and strategising."
The DJN’s stated purpose is to 'strengthen disaster resilience among journalists and newsrooms in Nepal, and to contribute to the disaster preparedness of local communities by providing in-depth, nuanced, and solution-oriented reporting'.
Besides the current Covid-19 crisis, Nepal experiences natural disasters frequently. The most notable among such calamities was the 2015 earthquake that killed around 9,000 and displaced millions. The Aftershock Nepal research undertaken by Dr Sreedharan and Professor Thorsen was in the wake of the 2015 earthquake. Their work has led to several interventions in Nepal, explicitly to strengthen resilience among journalists - one of which is the creation of the DJN.
Professor Stephen Jukes, an experienced crisis journalist and the director of BU’s Centre for the Study of Conflict, Emotion and Social Justice, was among the special guests present at the launch of DJN.
"News reporting during disasters is difficult and dangerous, but it is also vital in terms of distributing accurate information to the public and accountability over those in charge," said Professor Jukes. "We also hope that DJN helps to strengthen the voices of marginalised communities in Nepal’s media."
More than 50 representatives from the media and NGO sectors attended the launch. Among them were Nepal Red Cross Society executive director Umesh Dhakal, who pledged his organisation’s willingness to collaborate with the DJN. Also at the virtual event was Govind Acharya, the president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists.
DJN coordinator Amika Rajthala said that the organisations involved had a shared interest in strengthening disaster preparedness and building capacity. "We will bring together more newsrooms in the network."
As well as the DJN, BU's work research on the effect of disasters and most recently, Covid-19 on journalists in Nepal has led to one of the coutry's largest news publishers adopting a disaster journalism policy. A report based on the research around Covid-19 was also recently released by Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada, Nepal’s Honourable Minister of Finance, and Communication and Information Technology.