Journalists raise money and offer direct help to Haiti

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake disaster last week a number of news organisations have been quick to get aid initiatives off the ground to help raise money and ease some off the communication problems caused by the collapse of the domestic telephone network.

The Sun launched its Helping Haiti appeal last week to help readers to make donations to the stricken nation online, by phone, text message or post – the money will be handed over to Medecins Sans Frontieres to help its relief effort.

Most other national newspapers mentioned the Disasters Emergency Committee fund as the central point for donations in stories.

Other organisations, including the Red Cross, CNN and the New York Times, have turned to the web to compile databases of missing persons.

Relatives keen to get news about the fate of loved-ones in Haiti are also turning to social media. The Twitter group tagged “#relativesinhaiti” has been flooded with traffic, while “#rescuemehaiti” is being used to direct rescue efforts directly to the places where trapped survivors have been located.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation has launched a free Emergency Information Service (EIS) to help the people of Haiti. The service sends out free text messages with up-to-date, reliable and actionable information to survivors of the earthquake, wherever they are in Haiti.

“Information is a vital form of aid itself…Disaster-affected people need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter. Information can save lives, livelihoods and resources,” a Thomson Reuters spokesman said.

The service also acts as a news gathering tool, though which survivors can report information directly to a team of specialist journalists who will then make it freely available to agencies, emergency teams and local media.

People outside of Haiti can also register their loved ones’ mobile phone numbers on their behalf.

At the same time, The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its member organisations in the Americas are preparing an urgent assistance programme for media workers and journalists affected by the earthquake.

The IFJ is using its network of affiliates in Latin America, the Federación de Periodistas de América Latina y el Caribe (FEPALC), to organise support.

Although communication with most of the country is cut off, the IFJ affiliate in neighbouring Dominican Republic is in touch with some colleagues inside Haiti.

“The people of Haiti are enduring a nightmare of suffering and grief,” said Aidan White, the IFJ General Secretary.

“And among the many victims are media workers and journalists. We will do what we can to help them…There are urgent humanitarian needs but it is also vital that the communication system, including media is put back together again as quickly as possible. People need access to useful information to confront this tragedy,” White said.

As the Haitian press has been devastated by the quake, Reporters Without Borders plans to set up a centre of operations for Haitian journalists in Port-au-Prince next week in order to enable them to report on the situation and thereby assist the population.

The centre will be equipped with laptops, mobile phones and generators provided by the leading Canadian media group Quebecor.

The Canadian embassy in Haiti has offered to house the emergency centre within its compound.

The creation of this centre of operations will be followed by reconstruction assistance – again in partnership with Quebecor – for Haiti’s media. This will be one of the targets of the donations raised by the appeal already issued by Reporters Without Borders.

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