Strategic communications in crisis stressed

02 June, 2015 -
Kathmandu, June 1: Various speakers have stressed the need to develop effective mechanisms to proactively disclose and disseminate post-quake rescue, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction related information to citizens. At a policy interface discussion organized here today by Freedom Forum on "Challenges and Prospects of Effective Implementation of Right to Information in the Changed Context", the stakeholders called for the state to equip and enable its existing communication mechanisms to respond crisis. Information Commissioner Kiran Pokharel highlighted the urgency of imparting proper information and correct message to the quake-prone and quake affected people. "Civic mechanism should also be put in place to assist the dissemination of information", he said. Ex-Chief Information Commissioner Binay Kumar Kasajoo said the opportunity offered by the technology should be best applied as a complementary means to access information in crisis when there is no proper situation to request and respond information need. "The RTI Act has not mentioned much about technology but it is very important to ensure unobstructed flow of crucial information in the time of emergency," he said, adding, "Such situation demands proactive engagement of the civil society organizations and media when the state accountability is in a weak state." He also noted the importance of incorporating the internet as an indispensable component in view of rehabilitation and reconstruction phase. Freedom Forum Chairperson and RTI activist Taranath Dahal voiced his concern for the protection of sensitive data and information of public importance during critical time and stressed the need to incorporate information and communications perspectives as a part and parcel of the Post Disaster Need Assessment being developed by the government. "There is a fear of collapse and concealing of sensitive data and information in the pretext of earthquake so the government oversight bodies should be vigilant of such danger," he asserted. RTI expert Dr Ram Krishna Timsina said that in the absence of proper dissemination of disaster related information the image of the state has been portrayed negatively. "No rights of the citizens should be suspended in crisis. Legal mechanism enabled with information is a must for crisis management," he said, calling for the government to come up with a high-powered mechanism to address the issues of liberty, property and justice in crisis. Also speaking on the occasion, Dr Sudhamshu Dahal, Assistant Professor, School of Arts, Kathmandu University, underlined the need to effectively run strategic communication centres in the quake-affected sites to respond crisis through processed information. Journalist Hasta Gurung lamented over the disruption of information flow due to inefficiency on part of the state during the much-needed hour. "It is the moment when only government mechanism should flow information as a reliable and authentic source. The breakdown of info dissemination put people in panicky and frustrating situation." Freelance journalist Gyanu Adhikari articulated that the government should open up life-saving demographic data and information and work with open data approach in re-building and re-construction phase. Likewise, Director-General of Postal Service Department Drona Pokharel asked RTI activists and practitioners to devise their initiatives to improve transparency and accountability of public funds during the time of reconstruction. Other speakers including journalist duo Hari Binod Adhikari and Dharmendra Jha, CCRI Executive Director Tanka Aryal, Open Nepal Coordinator Pavitra Rana, RTI activist Sanjeeb Ghimire and Khila Sapkota underscored the importance of strengthening state mechanism to render relief to the people through proper information flow.