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Evaluation report

2005 EAPRO: Tsunami Media Evaluation Report by Echo Research



Author: Echo Research, Inc.

Executive summary

Background:

This media analysis report by global reputation analyst, Echo Research, reviews UNICEF's communications following the Tsunami and the impact of communication on government policies and UNICEF programs in Sri Lanka and Indonesia (the Tsunami Zone). The analysis looks at UNICEF coverage related to the Tsunami disaster in key international and Tsunami region media. The report tracks message pick up, spokespersons, issues related to the aftermath of the Tsunami and UNICEF's efforts related to these issues.

The period of the analysis covers the three months following the Tsunami: Dec 26, 2004 – March 26, 2005.

Coverage was sourced by Echo via Lexis Nexis, Factiva and individual media websites and internet engines, and covered the following:
International media – includes key influential press such as (but not limited to) AFP, Asian Wall St. Journal, BBC, CNN International, The Guardian, International Herald Tribune, New York Times, Reuters, The Time etc. Also included is relevant coverage from selected press in the Tsunami region that carry UNICEF messages and comment on policy development i.e. Bangkok Post, New Straits Times, Straits Times, Times of India.

Local media in Indonesia included (but not limited to) Bisnis, Jakarta Post, Kompass, LKBN, SCTV, Waspada. Local media in Sri Lanka included (but not limited to) Divaina, Daily Mirror, The Island, Sunday Times and Thinakarin.

The Sri Lankan and Indonesian coverage provides a representative picture of UNICEF interests and impact in the region. However, in terms of number of media, there was a bias toward influential international publications.

Purpose/Objective:

This study is designed to help improve the effectiveness and future use of communication in support of UNICEF programming and advocacy.

Methodology:

An 'Issues & Messages Framework' for researchers, which they have to look for and record in each article. Once the researchers have noted the issues and messages appearing in the article, they then assign it a rating.

Findings and Conclusions:

  • UNICEF communications underpinned a third of key media references to the agency globally in the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami disaster, helping generate a healthy level of favorable coverage (61%). Spokespeople, led by Carol Bellamy, were especially active particularly in raising awareness of children's vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking.
  • The simplicity of UNICEF's key messages undoubtedly aided media penetration. Over half of reports presented at least one UNICEF message, led by 'Tsunami children are vulnerable to trafficking & exploitation' and 'One third of all victims of the Tsunami were children'. Communications were especially successful in raising awareness of trafficking syndicates operating in Indonesia and alleged abductions by the LTTE in Sri Lanka. Subsequent decisions by several governments worldwide to place a moratorium on adoptions from the region, including the Indonesian government, credited UNICEF with influencing the move. However, this intense focus did appear to relegate other aspects of UNICEF's work to a lower position on the media agenda.
  • UNICEF's work in returning children to school, keeping children alive and caring for separated children– the three other key priorities in addition to protection from exploitation – achieved lower prominence in the global media as a result.
  • Aside from reference to UNICEF's influence in the implementation of adoption bans, the agency featured little in relation to policy issues. The focus of reporting was very much on the relief effort rather than political issues. It could be argued that UNICEF should have played a more prominent role in the debate over improved reconstruction and ongoing development, once the initial media frenzy eased. This was a key Tsunami message that produced less successful return.
  • Two thirds of reports referenced other aid agencies, notably the Red Cross and Save the Children. This was a crowded arena with a myriad of agencies involved in relief work. UNICEF achieved greater or equal prominence in the majority of reports, with collaboration with other agencies a key aspect of a spirit of cooperation elicited by the disaster.

Recommendations:

Heavy focus on exploitation - a strength and a weakness?
The international media’s frenzy in reporting incidents of child abduction and trafficking meant UNICEF's other relief priorities were somewhat overshadowed as a result. Certainly, there were a significant number of media articles where unconfirmed reports passed for fact and UNICEF appeared to get caught up in this melee. The Times (1/7) took the view that this was the West's unhealthy obsession with child abuse being projected onto Asia. It undoubtedly focused government minds on protecting children, with bans on adoptions across America, Europe and Asia. However, what was missing in the aftermath was a sober assessment of how much exploitation and child trafficking had actually taken place. UNICEF could have provided this assessment.

The return to school - a key sphere of influence within the Tsunami zone
While the international media led with stories of child trafficking and abductions, the media within the Tsunami Zone were more grounded. UNICEF's priority in ensuring children returned to school took center stage, with the agency widely applauded for its work in this effort. This was a key area where UNICEF's collaborative work with local government was to the fore. UNICEF's role in influencing policy on the ground did not gain as much attention as it may well have deserved, with Government spokespeople ensuring it was they who were seen to be driving policy. Future communications work needs to ensure UNICEF is credited with policy influence, where this is appropriate.

Reconstruction and development - UNICEF's role in debate
The limited visibility for UNICEF's 'building back better' message, urging for better reconstruction and ongoing development in the region, underlined UNICEF's limited position in the media debate on these key policy issues. This was an arena where UNICEF could have exerted a stronger presence as media interest in the Tsunami began to ease.

Lack of leadership messages suggests difficulty in forging unique position in relief effort
The Tsunami prompted an unprecedented amount of action from other relief organizations, NGOs and governments around the world. The limited presence of messages endorsing UNICEF's leadership in the relief effort underlines how crowded the agenda was. It also suggests UNICEF struggled to assert a unique identity in the media ahead of Save the Children and other children's agencies. UNICEF, undoubtedly, headed the call for protection of children from exploitation but, in terms of reschooling, other agencies were equally visible playing an important role. The challenge in any future disaster for UNICEF is how to assert a unique position as distinct from other children's aid organizations.

Spokespeople play key role in promoting key issues and messages
Press release activity was very much subordinate to communications from spokespeople on the ground. In a fast-changing news environment, this proved to be the most effective and flexible way for UNICEF to present its message. Carol Bellamy was especially visible, while John Budd and Ted Chaiban were served as an essential component of communications in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. UNICEF's simple set of messages helped spokespeople stay consistently 'on message'.

Oil for food scandal tarnishes some US reporting
While coverage yielded very little unfavorable comment toward UNICEF, the tone of some US reporting was somewhat skeptical. Compared to Europe and Asia, there was a much stronger focus on how aid was administered, the percentage of aid actually reaching the survivors and stipulations from donors on how money was to be spent. The Oil for Food scandal in Iraq, which was occasionally mentioned in this context, suggests aid agencies may need to rebuild trust with the American public.

Note: Report too large to attach.  Please contact the Evaluation Office at UNICEF New York.



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Report information

Date:
2005

Region:
EAPRO

Country:
Intra-regional

Type:
Evaluation

Theme:
Emergency - Response

Partners:

PIDB:

Follow Up:

Language:
English

Sequence Number:
2005/801

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