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Tackling Fake News in Indonesia

Fake news in Indonesia is rife too.

This played out, at times cruelly, in the wake of the Palu earthquake in September of 2018.  More than 2,000 people are believed to have died.

Among the hoaxes were stories that free flights were available to Palu – one of the major cities of Sulawesi – for victims’ families travelling from other islands. Another was that the Bili Bili Dam, in south Sulawesi, had cracks and could burst at any moment.

In subsequent weeks, doctored photos and images were shared that distorted and dramatised the eruption of the Soputan volcano on the island.

This list of Sulawesi fake stories continues.

How we are tackling fake news in Indonesia

So, it could be a masterstroke, that Save the Children has taken on the role of beginning the long haul of establishing journalism ‘standard operating procedures’ during natural disasters in Indonesia. The impact could be considerable; enhancing our role as a thought-leader, a centre of excellence, raising awareness of our ‘brand’ among journalists, placing ourselves as a ‘go-to’ resource on children for journalists, the list goes on. This can be systemic change.

Journalists in Indonesia have long-been poorly paid. Many will have more than one job in order to make ends meet. Their time and resources are in exceedingly short supply.

This is why Save the Children – or as we are known in Indonesia, Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik – has commissioned an independent journalist association called Aliansi Jurnalis Independent  to produce a guidebook for local journalists on how to report during natural disasters. The potential for this project is huge. It has the potential to drive change in flows of quality public information during natural disasters in Indonesia, and further afield.

To better determine what journalists need I teamed with Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik colleagues in Indonesia to run a workshop for local journalists in Sulawesi; listening to them to find out what they need if they are to do their job well after an earthquake has struck, while also devising – it had to come from them – a standard operating procedure for journalists engaged in reporting during such an emergency.

How did we run the workshop?

Among our first tasks was to make the journalists recognise and act upon the need to prepare for a natural disaster. Sulawesi, and much of Indonesia, is on the disaster-prone ‘ring of fire’. Despite this, too few journalists have the resources to ensure they and their families will be protected as best possible. Where to find safe water, sources of food, and medical aid were all urgent issues for themselves – before they consider how to report on these stories.

Journalists taking part in Save the Children’s workshop on reporting after natural disasters.

Then the taboo issue in this setting of ‘well-being’ had to be tackled. Many of the journalists are still recovering from their own traumas, a year on. Many have still to acknowledge their own ‘well-being’ and anxieties and seek support.

It was poignant when participants opened up about their traumas. One said he was still wrestling with post-quake anxieties. All agreed, it was now time that personal trauma and anxieties were issues that journalists acknowledged, support each other and seek qualified help.

We moved on to working through how journalists can provide fact and evidence-based stories in the initial hours after an earthquake. Playing the role of witness, journalists can explore stories about what they see, they can ask has anyone been hurt, or worse? They can explore what has happened to family homes, to their local schools and hospitals? By so doing, they are producing fact and evidence-based stories, stories their audiences want to read, listen and watch too.

In subsequent days, they can start to provide stories that also serve as vehicles for public information. These can be stories exploring where is shelter? Where is my school? How do I find safe drinking water? Where can I seek medical help? Who is in control here?

Guidelines on how to interview children in emergencies and Save the Children’s child safeguarding protocols were discussed and worked through.

We talked too about ways of verifying photos and video that they want to use in our disaster stories. Unless they can account for their authenticity, they agreed among themselves they will not use them.

The Future

Fake news may still be rife in Indonesia, but Save the Children is playing an important part in building flows of accurate information – not least about what will or could affect the lives of children. We have also placed ourselves in a strong position to promote our brand and child rights in a country with the fourth largest population on earth.

Some of the media coverage (not fake) of Save the Children’s project with journalists:

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