Internews Launches Temporary Emergency Radio Station in Philippines

November 20, 2013
Initial assessment identifies acute, urgent needs for information and documents sheer destruction of the local media in the Tacloban area

Internews has secured a temporary emergency broadcast license and will immediately begin establishing a radio station for public service in the hard-hit Tacloban/Leyte area, on frequency 92.7 FM, initially for a one-month period.

Internews is currently seeking a second emergency broadcast license to operate from the Eastern Samar region and a 3-month extension of both licenses for an extra 3-month period, until March 31, 2014.

A four-day assessment of information needs and access to communication channels through direct interviews with survivors, local journalists, humanitarian aid workers and visits to local media outlets in Tacloban city and Palo shows an acute, urgent need for information and documents the sheer destruction endured by local media outlets.

“It is always heartbreaking to see people who may have lost everything feel completely disconnected,” said Jacobo Quintanilla, Internews Director of Humanitarian Communication Programs, who conducted the assessment in Tacloban. “This confusion only serves to further disempower, and further traumatize, already fragile communities. People rely on word of mouth and have no means to find additional, accurate information. Restoring the communication networks, including mobile phone and radio, must be a humanitarian priority as people are literally left in the dark in most areas.”

Of eleven known pre-storm stations in the area, only two were partially operational as of November 19th and the information available is not directly targeted at the affected populations. “Local media in Leyte and Eastern Samar are mostly regional relays into the larger networks in Manila. As a local reporter told me, ‘we produce local news for Manila, not for our own people,’” said Quintanilla.

The Internews emergency station will enable public service broadcasting to the most affected, disconnected areas in the Leyte region, reaching 10-20km from its location. Internews will initially distribute 200 wind-up radios from its existing stockpile. The Internews station will complement an existing radio station operated from Tacloban city by colleagues in the Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities (CDAC) Network, First Response Radio (FRR).

 “Our temporary station will be powered by local journalists from the affected areas, many of whom lost their own homes, as well as the stations that employ them,” said Stijn Aelbers, Internews Team Leader in Leyte. The local reporting team will be supported and mentored on emergency humanitarian broadcast by two specialists from Internews’ humanitarian media roster.

"As aid arrives and services become available, all responding agencies must make effort to explain their work and services to those affected, and to listen to survivors,” said Stewart Davies, UNOCHA Communications with Communities Officer in Tacloban. “This is key to delivering effective assistance that meets the needs of a traumatized population in an environment where rumors and misunderstandings can cause serious problems. It is also key to delivering on commitments to transparency and accountability.”

Internews partner MapAction is working to plot all pre- and post-storm media outlets in the affected area. Info4disaster, SBTF volunteers and Internews staff on the ground, under the coordination of the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning, collected the data.

Internews also aims to support the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to conduct a more in-depth assessment of the status of the local media and a brief policy document on how local media could be better prepared and respond to natural disasters.

While the communications situation is dire, Internews has found in Tacloban that humanitarian first-responders are more focused on the critical need for information than in previous emergencies. An Inter-Agency needs assessment led by ACTED and IOM, for example, included two questions on information need and access to communication channels, an indication of the growing realization that two-way information between survivors and aid providers is critical, and that understanding affected communities’ information needs and access to communication channel is vital to more effectively deliver shelter, food, or health services, and engage with local communities.