Pandemic Influenza symposium a success among government, experts and media in Azerbaijan
BAKU, 6 March 2007 - As the threat of avian flu once again confronts Europe and Central Asia, a 3-day Symposium on crisis communication and media relations during a national health emergency brought together government officials from different ministries to discuss the organization and implementation of crisis communication campaigns in Azerbaijan in the context of a possible Avian Influenza pandemic.
The UNICEF symposium was organized in partnership with the World Bank (WB) and supported by the Government of Japan and included a round-table discussion between officials and media on how to best cooperate in conveying important and accurate information to the public.
The symposium began with UNICEF Azerbaijan Representative Hanaa Singer’s opening remarks, in which she described the extreme importance of the issue for which they were meeting.
“As you know, avian influenza is already affecting the lives and livelihoods of families and children in our region, with children accounting for about half of all reported human cases and a third of deaths from avian influenza to date (three children out of a total of five died here in Azerbaijan),” she said. “Those children would not have put themselves at risk had they been aware of the danger. Our biggest challenge is to increase public awareness.”
Government officials participating in the symposium represented a broad range of state structures including the ministries of Health, Agriculture, Emergencies, Education, Ecology, Youth and Sports.
Trainers from the Thomson Foundation gave workshops on information dissemination showing the participants how to work with the media, how to speak publicly and how to effectively respond to a crisis by communicating in a clear and timely manner to dispel public misunderstanding and panic.
The participants seemed to learn a great deal and thoroughly enjoy themselves in the process, as Sedaqet Memmedova of the Ministry of Ecology explained: “I am very satisfied with the symposium. It was very special and I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate with journalists, how to carry myself; I never realized the depth of techniques required to effectively speak with journalists and the media.”
With such exercises as mock press conferences, a staged crisis event, street interviews as well as a videotaping analysis, the consultants were able to prepare experts and officials not just for day-to-day information dissemination, but for possible crises so that they can be effective and help those who would most suffer should Avian Flu become pandemic.
Orkhan Muradov, a journalist from the state News Agency believed the symposium was very useful for improving media-government relations in Azerbaijan “For example, there is a strict and simple structure for writing press releases that can be learned and put into practice effectively... I hope it’s not UNICEF’s last event of this kind.”
The purpose of the symposium was to “prepare officials to work cohesively and coherently with the media so that they may reassure the public. After all, the person in the village may be the one who will be affected by a pandemic outbreak, so it’s important to figure out how to accurately relay the information directly and clearly instead of sending out chaotic mixed messages,” according to consultant James Campbell. “It’s especially important to target the elderly and children.”
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