When people are desperate for information during a humanitarian emergency, it is sometimes assumed that they will not be discerning about media content they watch or listen to. Research findings across the six emergencies studied by BBC Media Action refute this. People affected by emergencies choose where to source information based on ease of access, quality, relevance of the content and how much they feel they can trust it.


People affected by humanitarian emergencies had strong opinions about the media content they did and did not like, such as a presenter’s tone or a show’s format. Audience members were particularly engaged when they felt that presenters and guests were empathetic and represented their situation fully and accurately.

Across the emergencies covered by this research, listeners found the programmes produced by BBC Media Action were high quality, with engaging content that was relevant to their needs.

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Audience members especially engaged with media programmes when they could empathise with the people portrayed in them and felt that the presenters and guests were genuinely sensitive to the needs of people caught up in an emergency.

In conflict-affected Gaza, and among Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, audience members most frequently recalled programmes that moved them emotionally. People were sensitive both to the type of media content and the way it was presented.

People in Gaza, for example, liked the fact that Atheer Gaza (Gaza Lifeline) reporters were also from Gaza and therefore genuinely understood their situation.



Listeners really valued being able to identify with the people and places in media broadcasts. In Nepal, they valued the episodes of Milijuli Nepali (Together Nepal) that interviewed a range of people from different regions who reflected their reality and needs. They also liked the outdoor interviews in villages because this was a format they were familiar with from community radio shows.

Rohingya listeners to the radio programmes supported by BBC Media Action said that hearing both men and women’s voices helped both genders to engage with the programmes – women liked hearing women’s voices and appreciated that the female presenter discussed issues that particularly affected women.


Accurate representation

Listeners affected by humanitarian emergencies were sensitive to having a full and accurate representation of the difficulties they faced in media outputs. At times they felt that their reality was harder than those reflected in the programmes.

This was highlighted in Nepal and Gaza,and is a key challenge for mass media outlets when targeting broad audiences with different experiences and needs.

Nevertheless, research showed that the programmes supported by BBC Media Action were particularly successful in representing people with whom audiences could identify, and in using appropriate and engaging programme formats.


Some listeners appreciated having a wide variety of topics covered by media programmes, while others preferred programmes that covered fewer topics in more detail.

In Nepal, Milijuli Nepali (Together Nepal) listeners’ preferences changed throughout the phases of the post-earthquake emergency. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, they needed informative programming. During the recovery phase they wanted more entertaining programming as they began to tire of hearing about the earthquake.

Rohingya refugee listeners in Bangladesh enjoyed hearing Rohingya songs and voices, and valued the fact that the radio programmes were made for their benefit.

In Somalia, focus group participants liked the interesting topics in the factual radio programme Ogaal (Be Informed),  including education, disease prevention and vaccination, sanitation, child nutrition and maternal health. They also liked the “learn and be safe” section of the programme, which focused on health issues. Listeners especially liked hearing from people who had been affected by the drought, and displaced people.

PLAYLIST: be engaging


Research shows that media gave a voice to people in humanitarian emergencies – and that they expected it to do so.

Audience members affected by emergencies wanted to share experiences with others and with decision-makers who could potentially help.

Representing people “like them” plays a role in making people affected by emergencies feel that their voices and the issues that they care about are heard.

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Giving people a voice to air their concerns and share their experiences is a key attribute of communication interventions in emergency contexts.
It can support people by enabling them to share common problems, reassure them that they are not alone, and that others are aware of their problems. It can also ensure that communication is ‘two-way’ and reflects audience needs.

Findings across these emergency case studies show that people affected by emergencies wanted and appreciated a platform on which to share and hear experiences. Listeners in Gaza appreciated that Atheer Gaza (Gaza Lifeline) was not afraid to discuss “difficult issues” that were important to them and wanted the programme to be aired on western media too so that the international community could hear it.

As well as appreciating hearing “people like them” discuss issues, listeners also appreciated having their own channels of communication. In Sierra Leone, over 12,000 people signed up to the programme’s WhatsApp group where they could post comments, questions and requests for programming.

In Gaza, they “liked” the project’s Facebook page but wanted more interaction. In Nepal, listeners used an interactive voice recording machine to leave their comments and suggestions for the programme. Rohingya refugees were keen to have the opportunity to ask questions on the call-in programmes, but women in particular did not usually have access to a phone and therefore needed to be in the location where the call-in was being recorded.

Overall the research showed that two-way communication was limited, and listeners wanted more interaction and follow-up of issues, highlighting the importance of local partnerships.

PLAYLIST: giving people a voice


People affected by humanitarian emergencies want those in charge to be firmly held to account by the media. Some want programme-makers to follow up on things that programme guests say, while others want to speak directly with aid providers and decision-makers through a programme.

In Somalia, for instance, listeners gave examples of leaders and responders they heard on the radio programme Ogaal (Be Informed), such as the deputy minister of the interior in Goobdeero, the deputy minister of Puntland, and interviews with Unicef representatives highlighting how they had helped people affected by the drought.

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In emergency contexts, accuracy and accountability become more pressing, and the importance of audience members having confidence in, and trusting, media content is heightened.

People affected by the emergencies researched by BBC Media Action expected decision-makers, governments and the aid community to take action to improve their circumstances.

Research participants in Sierra Leone highlighted that accountability was “more of a life and death issue” during an emergency like the Ebola epidemic.

Some claimed broadcasters had a responsibility to hold decision-makers to account and help provide transparency – especially when programmes give officials a platform.

In Nepal and Gaza, listeners to the radio programmes produced or supported by BBC Media Action wanted to be able to interact directly with decision-makers on the programmes and challenge them on any information they believed to be inaccurate.

The desire to hold organisations to account appeared to be less strong among Rohingya refugee listeners in Bangladesh. This may be because they would not be familiar with this concept in their home country of Myanmar, possibly due to limited access to media, and limited media roles in ensuring accountability among power-holders.



BBC Media Action’s research shows that people value media content that they can access easily – without high costs or inconvenience – in language they can understand.

A key advantage of the mass media outlets covered by this research was their ability to reach large numbers of diverse people affected by an emergency with critical information.

In terms of language, male and female Rohingya refugee listeners appreciated the female presenter because she helped them understand issues. Although a Chittagonian speaker (broadcasting in Rohingya was forbidden ), the presenter had learned certain Rohingya words and phrases to communicate more effectively with audience members.

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Findings from BBC Media Action’s research were consistent with learning from other humanitarian emergencies, in that a lack of electricity was a major barrier to sharing information. People affected by  emergencies in Sierra Leone, Nepal and Gaza mostly relied on radio for the information they needed. In Gaza especially, people accessed radio content through mobile phones, which require less electricity.

In Gaza, people affected by the conflict selected multiple media channels based on their trust in the medium and broadcaster, the relevance of content to their lives, and the content they liked.

In Nepal, many interviewees could not recall which radio station or programme they sourced information from immediately after the earthquake.

In Bangladesh, radio listenership in the Rohingya refugee camps was low, with women having less access than men. Listener groups were set up in the camps to help people access the programmes.

In Somalia, BBC Media Action’s formative research for the factual radio programme Ogaal (Be Informed) found that many people displaced by the drought had lost, or had limited access to, radios. In response, the project team organised listening groups in Xudur in South Central Somalia, Ainabo in Somaliland and Galkaiyo in Puntland to help people access relevant information. Focus group participants, who listened to the programme on their own radio or someone else’s, reported discussing the programme with other people – suggesting that media content can reach more people than direct audiences.



People affected by humanitarian emergencies want information that is relevant to their specific location with practical, achievable solutions.

While mass media can reach many people quickly and cover a wide range of topics, it struggles to provide truly local information, such as where health clinics are located or what kind of local building materials to use.

Locally-based broadcasters and other local actors who can address or provide follow-up on more local issues are important for filling this information gap.

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BBC Media Action’s research shows that broadcast media can reach many people quickly and cover a wide range of topics in emergency contexts. Broadcasting universal information can be powerful. For example, listeners affected by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa benefited from hearing how to practise safe burials and handwashing.

However, covering local issues in depth and following up on specific issues affecting a particular community is a challenge. For example, people in Nepal valued learning about how to build a shelter, but also wanted specific information about how and where to source materials in their particular area. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh noted instances where a programme had mentioned using water purification tablets or sanitary towels without mentioning where listeners could collect these items.

On the other hand, when programmes included details that were only relevant for certain locations or groups, other listeners were frustrated.

This research suggests that mass media is a less appropriate medium for conveying specific, localised information as that can compromise the accuracy of information, and audience members’ trust in, and perceived relevance of, content. Collaboration with local broadcast partners is key in producing and disseminating locally relevant media content.


PLAYLIST: Have Localised Information


In the rapidly changing and uncertain environment of a humanitarian emergency, trust is fluid. Research shows that listeners and viewers trust information that they believe to be accurate and consistent with what they have seen or heard elsewhere.

If a guest on a media programme gives information that is wrong or perceived to be wrong, levels of trust in the programme and its presenters are damaged.

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Respondents to BBC Media Action’s research tended to trust content that they believed accurately reflected an emergency context. Listeners to Kick Ebola, for example, said they trusted the information because it was timely and reflected current events.

In conflict settings, trust and people’s confidence in media content are especially important. In Gaza, listeners trusted the BBC brand and the non-partisan station (Radio Alwan) that co-produced episodes of BBC Media Action’s radio programme Atheer Gaza (Gaza Lifeline).

In Jordan and Lebanon, video messages for Syrian refugees were played on TV screens in UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) registration centres, alongside some UNHCR content. This meant that some people attributed BBC Media Action content to UNHCR, which could have influenced its perceived independence and objectivity.

Accountability, accuracy and trust are connected. This research showed that, while listeners generally trusted the media platforms and presenters used in BBC Media Action programming, levels of trust were diminished if a guest on a programme gave information that was incorrect or perceived to be inaccurate.

This raises challenges for humanitarian broadcasters, who may not always see the need – or have the time or capacity – to verify information from “experts” on a show or follow up on promises made on air by officials.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said they trusted information on the radio programmes Begunnor Lai (For Everyone) and Shishur Hashi (Children’s Smile) for two reasons. Firstly, this information was consistent with that received from other sources such as community mobilisers or doctors. Secondly, they had followed advice from the programmes and found that it worked.

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

In Somalia, Ogaal (Be Informed) listeners trusted the programme as it discussed current issues and included interviews with people directly affected by the drought. Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and carers who had practised some of the recommendations from the programme also found that these actions had worked, which reinforced their belief that the information from the programme was accurate.