Media can provide vital information to people in humanitarian emergencies . It can also do much more to help people cope during emergencies, such as provide psychosocial support, connect people with others, prompt discussion, and motivate people to take actions to improve their lives.


Mass media can help emergency relief efforts by providing critical information that increases people’s awareness and knowledge around key issues.

People affected by the emergencies covered by BBC Media Action’s research could recall information they heard on humanitarian broadcasts and reported learning things such as how to recognise and handle trauma (during the Gaza conflict) or what services were available (for refugees in Lebanon and Jordan).

Audience members said they found practical, local information the most relevant, particularly when conveyed by people they could relate to. They valued facts that dispelled rumours, which can become rife in emergency contexts.

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Providing information is perhaps the most frequently cited benefit of media in emergency contexts. Knowledge and information is a prerequisite to action and a way to help meet people’s psychosocial needs.

Learning about important issues

BBC Media Action’s research assessed the impact of broadcast material that it had either produced or supported. It showed that media programmes were able to create and reinforce knowledge on important issues among people affected by humanitarian emergencies. These included how Ebola could spread (in Liberia and Sierra Leone) and the way refugees might be exploited (in Lebanon, Jordan and Bangladesh).

In Somalia, BBC Media Action, Radio Ergo, and BBC Somali Service collaborated to produce the radio programme Ogaal (Be Informed) that was broadcast three times a week to share practical, life-saving information. Listeners affected by the drought reported learning about topics relating to water and food security, hygiene and sanitation, maternal and child health, and economic security . This included learning the importance of handwashing after going to the toilet, the value of vaccinations, and increasing understanding about common diseases and malnutrition. Listening to the programme also led to some income-generating opportunities such as making and selling containers for storing food or washing clothes.

Refugee Rohingya listeners felt that factual and drama radio programmes produced or supported by BBC Media Action helped them gain new knowledge on many topics, ranging from hygiene practices to information about camp services, diseases and vaccination campaigns, as well as¬ the legal marriage age in Bangladesh. Listeners appreciated the different topics covered in the factual programmes, which they felt reflected their changing needs.

They felt the factual programmes Begunnor Lai (For Everyone) and Shishur Hashi (Children’s Smile), which were produced by partner radio stations with BBC Media Action’s support, reinforced their existing knowledge on practices such as handwashing and boiling drinking water. They felt the presenters clarified concepts they had previously found difficult to understand.

Sometimes I forget the things that I knew before the crisis. But after listening to… the radio shows, I can recall these important pieces of information.


Male Begunnor Lai listener, Balakhuli camp, Bangladesh

The importance of trust

Listeners placed a high value on trusting the information source, particularly during the Ebola epidemic, when many media outputs contained confusing, inconsistent and often scaremongering stories. In this context, listeners appreciated hearing clear and practical information that they could trust and act upon. Listeners to BBC Media Action’s diverse radio programmes on Ebola reported that they helped ease their fear of medical workers and gave them hope that the situation would improve.

In Somalia, listeners thought the Ogaal radio programme provided reliable and accurate information about how to cope with drought. Listeners trusted the programme, as it discussed current issues and included interviews with people who were directly affected by the drought. Most listeners said the information was provided when it was needed, but some said they had waited for this information for a long time.

Immediately following the earthquake in Nepal, the BBC World Service – with support from BBC Media Action – began broadcasting practical information on people’s most pressing concerns through the BBC Nepali service.

This became the Milijuli Nepali (Together Nepal) radio programme, which listeners appreciated for providing practical, useful information delivered in a way that did not spread rumours or fear – unlike some other media programmes. For example, they valued Milijuli Nepali for helping to dispel misinformation around filtering and boiling water. Listeners also appreciated learning how to stay safe during aftershocks.

In Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees trusted information provided in Begunnor Lai and Shishur Hashi because they could check it against other information sources. In some instances they described evidence of the accuracy of the information, for example seeing people’s health improve if they followed hygiene advice.


I started to trust the information when I started using it. I found it all useful, like when I started keeping my children clean, they suffered from less disease.


Female, Shishur Hashi listener group, Bangladesh

Helping practitioners

Humanitarian workers supporting people affected by the Gaza conflict and those supporting Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon valued the reliable content provided in BBC Media Action’s practical programmes and directed people to the programmes for key information. Humanitarian agencies supporting the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar have set up listener groups in the camps, where they play content from the radio programmes to share information with the community.



BBC Media Action’s research shows that media broadcasts are particularly effective at improving people’s psychosocial wellbeing during humanitarian emergencies. They helped people feel more hopeful, largely from feeling connected with others. They helped people realise that they were not alone and that people who could help knew about their situation and needs.


I lost hope entirely in fighting this [Ebola] disease, but after listening to this programme today, I will show love to people who have the disease in order to give them hope that they will get well again.


Focus group discussion, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Rohingya people suggested that listening to radio programmes supported by BBC Media Action played a role in their emotional wellbeing. People said they felt happier as a result of listening to the programmes, because they heard Rohingya voices and songs. The show made them smile, improved their mood and helped to reduce their pain.


If I don’t listen to the programme, I don’t feel at peace. But after listening to the show I feel peaceful.


Female Listen Again listener, Teknaf, Bangladesh

Media can directly contribute to the five elements recommended by Hobfoll et al.3 for immediate and mid-term mass trauma interventions – promoting a sense of safety, calm, self- and collective-efficacy, connectedness and hope.


3 Hobfoll et al. (2007)

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One of the greatest needs identified by listeners affected by emergencies was psychosocial support, with an emphasis on recovering and getting back to normal. Providing information can play a key role in this, and is part of recommended minimum requirements of emergency psychosocial aid.3

BBC Media Action’s research suggests that multiple elements of humanitarian broadcast programmes contributed to a sense of empowerment among listeners, prompting them to do something to improve their situation. This empowerment was the result of a range of factors, including the provision of practical information, a focus on solutions, and the sharing of inspiring stories from real people who had overcome problems.

In Somalia, aid workers felt the factual Ogaal (Be Informed) radio programme supported by BBC Media Action provided psychosocial and emotional support to people affected by the drought emergency. They thought it had helped listeners understand how the drought was affecting different areas, which made them realise they were not alone and helped create empathy among listeners – a fact also noted by listeners themselves. According to aid workers, listeners felt reassured by hearing what responders were doing. Listeners reported that Ogaal helped them to understand the drought better, which made them worry less.

It encouraged me to go to other people in the area and discuss about drought issues to help all the people in the area.”

Participant in focus group for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers, Muqdisho, South Central, Somalia

Media’s role in shifting attitudes is well recognised in the communication for development field, and research suggests that it also leads to action. 3

Fishbein and Cappella’s respected model of change in health and behaviour suggests there are three main factors that cause people to act – attitude, perceived norms around a behaviour and self-efficacy. BBC Media Action’s research shows that even in emergency situations, mass media has a role in influencing all three of these areas – helping to shift attitudes and perceptions, and giving a sense of hope and belief that the situation can improve.

Attitude shifts are usually looked at over longer time periods than emergencies. However, BBC Media Action’s research suggests that media can influence attitudes in short timeframes in emergency contexts, particularly in relation to people’s feelings about their situation. Media programmes made listeners feel more hopeful about their situation, largely by connecting them with others, making them aware they were not alone and that people were aware of their situation and needs.

These psychosocial aspects of humanitarian relief should not be underestimated. Psychosocial support can give hope and confidence to people during humanitarian emergencies and can be critical in enabling people to respond effectively.

3 Hobfoll et al. (2007)

PLAYLIST: Supporting psychological wellbeing


BBC Media Action’s research shows that media programmes played a key role in connecting people affected by humanitarian emergencies with each other and with relief workers.

Audience members valued feeling connected with people like them in similar situations because they could identify with their experiences and it made them feel less isolated.

Rohingya listeners said they liked to hear voices of other Rohingya people, and hear their stories. Some explained that they liked hearing the voices of people living in other camps, and how they were coping with similar issues.

In Somalia, listeners said they liked the interviews in Ogaal (Be Informed), as they especially valued hearing from people affected by the drought, and displaced people who discussed their situation. For example, listeners mentioned liking an interview with a young girl living in a camp who wanted to be a teacher, and an interview with a herdsman who learned to survive without livestock.

The thing that I liked was the story of the man who was a herdsman but now has camels, and even when there is no livestock he knows how to be a farmer.


Participant in focus group for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, Muqdisho, South Central, Somalia

People from diverse backgrounds feeling connected through common experiences helped to break down harmful barriers, such as during the Ebola epidemic and in conflict situations. This helped to shift negative attitudes and prompt positive action.

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Connecting people

Media programmes played a key role not only in forging connections between people in humanitarian emergencies, but also between audience members, experts and decision-makers. Listeners valued hearing or seeing “people like them” and being able to identify with their experiences and challenges.

Audiences: Research among Syrian refugees and people in Gaza showed that the Lifeline programmes produced by BBC Media Action (those containing practical, potentially life-saving information) helped connect people to those who they thought were not like them. Audience members spoke about the role media could play in breaking down barriers between different groups. Research in Sierra Leone also showed that programmes helped defuse the stigma surrounding Ebola survivors.

Practitioners: BBC Media Action’s interventions helped connect people affected by emergencies with humanitarian agencies by giving them a platform on which to share information. In Gaza, humanitarian workers appreciated being able to refer people to Atheer Gaza to obtain trustworthy information – reaching more people than they could reach through their initiatives.

Decision-makers: At least to some extent, media programmes connected people affected by emergencies with decision-makers by providing a platform for dialogue and questions. However, this was limited, and listeners would have welcomed opportunities to ask questions themselves, or for the presenters to follow up on issues with people in authority.



Across all six humanitarian emergencies covered by this research, audience members said they discussed programme content with their friends and relatives. Discussions ranged from debating Dalits’ rights and equality issues after the Nepal earthquake, to how to follow recommended ways to prevent Ebola without dishonouring tradition in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

 Discussions themselves can have psychological benefits. Analysis of health-related media interventions has shown positive associations between increased levels of discussion and action.

Among the Rohingya refugee community in Bangladesh, information is predominantly shared by word of mouth. Rohingya listeners to Begunnor Lai (For Everyone) and Shishur Hashi (Children’s Smile) unanimously said they shared what they had learned with their family members and neighbours, especially on hygiene, and encouraged them to take action.


I have discussed the information with my family members, neighbours and friends. In order to remain safe, it is necessary for all to remain clean.


Male, Radio Naf listener group, Bangladesh

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Although mass media outlets can only represent a limited number of people or voices on air, they are able to encourage off-air discussions between people, which results in information being shared more widely.

For example, listeners shared information about recognising psychological trauma in Gaza and avoiding exploitation around immigration in Jordan and Lebanon.

In Somalia, listeners reported talking about the topics in episodes of Ogaal (Be Informed) with others, and asking each other what was new on the programme. Health workers in Garowe reported that people discussed Ogaal there. They said that people affected by the drought were very interested in the programme because it provided them with practical information and solutions.

PLAYLIST: Prompting discussion


Evidence from the six humanitarian emergencies covered by this research suggests that the programmes produced or supported by BBC Media Action were effective in motivating and encouraging people to feel more confident about taking action to improve their situation.

People affected by emergencies told researchers that they appreciated factual, calm and practical information they could apply to their immediate situation.

Rohingya refugee listeners in Bangladesh gave concrete examples of actions they have taken as a result of listening to the radio programmes supported by BBC Media Action. This ranged from systematically washing their hands after using the toilet, to treating family members with saline solution to cure diarrhoea and looking after pregnant family members in a different way. They also actively encouraged family members and neighbours to take action on matters of health and hygiene.

Once, my father became sick with diarrhoea at night. During that time all the shops were closed. I made saline for him and the next morning took him to the hospital. I could tackle the situation by making saline, and I learned this from the radio show.


Female listener, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh

I have come to know that garbage should be thrown into a particular place, which I didn’t do before, so I ended up getting a skin disease. Now that I know, I throw all the garbage far from my house, into a particular place and ask others to do so too.


Male listener group member, Balukhali camp, Bangladesh

In Somalia, the factual radio programme Ogaal (Be Informed) helped listeners affected by the drought by encouraging them to take action, specifically in becoming more self-sufficient and finding work. Listeners were encouraged by what they learned from the BBC Media Action-supported programme, and reported taking actions such as vaccinating their children, and practising better sanitation. Listeners also felt the programme encouraged and gave them confidence to support others.

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What motivated and encouraged audiences?

Listeners in Nepal were encouraged by the real life stories shared in the radio programme Milijuli Nepali (Together Nepal) and wanted to hear more positive examples of how people had recovered and overcome problems, including examples from emergencies in other places.

In Gaza, listeners to Atheer Gaza (Gaza Lifeline) commented that the radio programme gave them some hope.


Motivation to act

Across the emergency contexts, listeners reported acting or intending to act based on the information they had heard in broadcast programmes.

Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon said the brief, factual videos produced by BBC Media Action motivated them to help themselves and request help from service providers, even though their past experience had given them little confidence that this would make much difference. They said they intended to act on some of the information they received this way, such as registering their children’s births and vaccinating them.

Listeners to BBC Media Action’s various Ebola broadcasts reported taking measures to prevent the virus spreading, such as practising safe burials and handwashing as a result of what they heard.


Limitations to taking action

People taking action as a result of broadcast programmes was not the strongest outcome of BBC Media Action’s media programming in emergency contexts. Overall, the research shows that mass media is better at encouraging generic actions relevant to everyone, such as handwashing, rather than specific, localised actions that are relevant to specific audiences and may rely on the capacity of humanitarian responders.

Research showed that generic information that is not actionable in a particular setting can be frustrating for listeners. For example, listeners in Gaza wanted clearer, more localised, solution-focused information. Similarly, Syrian refugees needed location-specific contact details for medical services to enable them to access particular healthcare services. The research also found that collaboration with local broadcast partners is key in producing and disseminating localised media content.

PLAYLIST: Motivating people to act