Remembering Bushfires

Kristin: Kate and I are in Canberra this week attending the Australian Science Communicators’ Conference in Canberra. Our first session this evening was titled ‘Bushifre science and journalism: communicating when emotions run high’.

On this anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, the organisers  have assembeled a panel with experience of being in the media frontline, journalists and scientists who participated in the coverage last year. One of the panelists is Michal Gawenda, previously editor of The Age and now at the Centre for Advanced Journalism (CAJ) at the University of Melbourne. The CAJ has conducted a research project reflected on the media coverage during the fires, questioning the preparedness, ethical issues, empathy and the role of journalists during this event.

Louise Maher from the ABC in Canberra spoke about the responsibilities in being an emergency broadcaster. She covered the Canberra bushfires when she lived in one of the worst affected area. Other panelists included Andrew Sullivan, Head of CSIRO’s Bushfire Dynamics and Applications Group and Lyndal Byford, Media manager at the Australian Science Media Centre. Lyndal spoke about the role of scientists in providing clear and concise information to fill the information gap in breaking news.

The overwhelming impression I was left with was an appreciation of the many roles that people in the media take on during such emergencies and the multitude of responses – emotional, political, informational, speculative and reflective – that are brought forth. But Lyndal also raised an interesting aspect – the role of scientists in providing information early, in educating the public early – and how that contributes to greater understanding of a range of issues, including emergencies.

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