Reviews Press

Crisis? What crisis?

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 11 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:648
  1. Naomi Marks, freelance journalist
  1. Brighton

    How do aid agencies get journalists on their side?

    When there are so many humanitarian crises taking place around the world at any one time—from wars to earthquakes, from deadly epidemics to famines—how do aid agencies overcome the difficulties of raising public awareness about them? How do they ensure that their disaster is the one that reaches the television screens in affluent Western homes, thereby encouraging donations and boosting the relief effort?

    Polly Markandya of Médecins Sans Frontiéres faced just this problem during the civil war in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. Despite the apparent newsworthiness of the obscene limb mutilations that rebel fighters were inflicting on the people of Sierra Leone, Ms Markandya, who has worked in MSF's communications department for seven years, found it hard to engage the interest of Western media outlets in publicising the butchery. The British media regarded it as “too horrible, too far away, too expensive,” she said. “No one was interested without photos—no one was willing to go there for photos.”

    So in 1998 she hired a freelance …

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