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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 95-102

The role of media in crisis management: A case study of Azarbayejan earthquake

1 Department of Journalism, Master of Art, Allameh Tabatabai University, Tehran, Iran
2 Assistant Professor, Medical Librarianship and Information Science, Social Determinants of Health Research Center, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Date of Web Publication12-Feb-2015

Correspondence Address:
Firoozeh Zare-Farashbandi
Social Determinants of Health Research Center, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan-81745
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2347-9019.151323

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Introduction: In the age of information, mass media are considered one of the most important means of communication. This creates an important role for mass media in creating national unity and remodelling of public opinions due to the widespread access to the mass media. Crisis in all its forms are an inseparable part of mankind's life and their diversity is increasing over time. Mass media play a special role in providing information and making people aware of the situation during crisis situations. The media can calm the populace and encourage them to do positive actions, and vice versa, terrorized the populace and create chaos. The aim of this article is to evaluate the role of media in informing people in crisis situation caused by Azerbaijan earthquake based on the opinion of university students. Materials and Methods: This is an applied study using survey method. The statistical population consisted all of the students of Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran and cluster sampling method was used to select 350 students for additional study. The data collection instrument was a researcher-made questionnaire. Results: The results showed that most respondents have been following the news through national television channels. According to the findings, the mass media plays an important and positive role in covering this incident motivated the populace to send humanitarian helps to disaster areas. Also most respondents tend to follow the news of the incident until the news coming from disaster areas return to normal. Discussion and Conclusion: All types of media play a critical role in disaster management, prior alarm systems and public education regarding disaster management; therefore, playing an important part in reducing the casualties and financial losses caused by such disasters. People expect mass media coverage during and after disasters and crises to be realistic, objective and non-promotional so that the events are reported in a precise and accurate manner.

Keywords: Azerbaijan, crisis management, earthquake, media

How to cite this article:
Ghassabi F, Zare-Farashbandi F. The role of media in crisis management: A case study of Azarbayejan earthquake. Int J Health Syst Disaster Manage 2015;3:95-102

How to cite this URL:
Ghassabi F, Zare-Farashbandi F. The role of media in crisis management: A case study of Azarbayejan earthquake. Int J Health Syst Disaster Manage [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Sep 21];3:95-102. Available from: https://www.ijhsdm.org/text.asp?2015/3/2/95/151323

  Introduction Top

Due to the ever increasing reach and influence of the mass media in today's society, they have become an inseparable part of any social situation. Mass media facilitates access to information for policymakers, managers and citizens alike and increases the speed with which new information is gathered accumulated and distributed, further increasing its role in managing situations such as natural disasters. Mass media can have a negative role in a crisis, increasing its scope or play a positive role and help solve the crisis. Nevertheless, the role of mass media in any crisis cannot be denied.

Public opinion is always disturbed during a crisis. In these situations, media can engage in an organized effort to control the public emotions and control the public opinion with a positive attitude. It is worth mentioning that without positive attitude in the media, even the best efforts of policymakers and managers would not have the best possible effect. In these situations, reporters working for the media should receive the information only from official sources in order to limit the number of contradicting and confusing information. Accurate and updated information is among the most important factors in finding solutions in extraordinary and crisis situations and providing this accurate information is the best way for the media to help the disaster victims. Media experts and reporters are the bridge between people and the government. If, by considering the nature of the society, the media plays an active, positive role before, during and after natural disasters and endeavours to offer positive criticism to the efforts of the government, it can be instrumental in increasing the protection against natural disasters; assisting people and the government in prevention, confrontation, rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts. Therefore, media and reporters have an important role in improving the society's defences against natural disasters and reducing the adverse effects of these disasters. [1]

Mass media and its tools play an important role in what we think about, how we think about it, and what, how and why effects our emotions. [2] In the eye of normal people, regardless of their education level, the belief that mass media has unimaginable power is widespread. Most people think that mass media can change philosophical and political opinions, give thoughts new form and guide all our actions. [3] These show the undeniable role of the mass media in human societies especially in crisis situations in which they can help the victims or instead increase their problems and suffering.

With the ever increasing presence of media in the society, its management power and role in various social situations such as disasters becomes more important. Media outlets must avoid spreading false reports and manage public opinions by producing accurate, varied and novel news. Increasing the information and awareness regarding a certain topic like a crisis and showing crisis patterns are among favourite techniques in mass media. Showing the real needs of disaster victims, helping the officials in gathering and organizing humanitarian aids and assisting the law enforcement to stop looting in disaster areas are among the actions that must be the priority of the media during any disaster or crisis. [4]

Due to the ability of the media in gathering a large audience and their role in shaping of the public opinion, they play an important role in all social, political, economical and natural disasters and unrests. Media work during a time of crisis requires a general analysis of the factors affecting the situation, the intervening groups and the actions of other groups which is affected by the paradoxical nature and inconsistency of some of these groups and factors. [5]

A media organization can play a positive role in controlling and managing a disaster only if its management follows careful but flexible planning and decision-making in a way that the process of creating and reporting the information fits the ever-changing situation of the disaster and the decisions made in the media fits the needs of the target audience. [6]

Although no crisis is exactly like others, there are several similarities in any disaster situation such as the need for quick decision-making, the limited number of solutions available, the clash between opposing groups, need for a quick reaction, the severity of the situation and the ever present nature of wrong decisions which can be used to create a predetermined plan for preventing and managing disasters and crisis situations (Nasiri 1387, 183). Earthquake is one of the natural disasters that will always be present. On the other hand due to the location of Iran on the global earthquake belt, there is a history of severe and damaging earthquakes happening in Iran. Even in the current century earthquake is among the real worries of people in Iran. Since year 1340, many damaging earthquakes have happened in Iran that had led to great losses both in loss of lives and in financial losses. The largest recent earthquake in Iran happened in 31 st of Khordad 1369 in Ghilan and Zanjan provinces and had a magnitude of 7.3 Richter and led to more than 40 thousand casualties. [7] In comparison, the Azerbaijan earthquake of 21 st of Mordad 1391 had 250 casualties.

Any situation that threatens the lives and livelihoods of the people in a way that needs to be addressed immediately and effectively is called a disaster. [8] Creating chaos and uncertainty in otherwise normal situations, [9] serious suspension of the daily routines of the families, society, local gatherings or ecosystem which necessitates outside management is the results of a disaster. [10] In other words, any situation that deviates from norm in unpredictable measures and causes financial losses and fatalities can be called a disaster.

Disaster management is an applied science that uses systematic observation and analysis of disasters to find tools that can help prevent the disasters or reduce their adverse effects and improve the lives of the victims. [11]

Media can have two different viewpoints regarding a disaster:

  • The viewpoint of silence, stability and lack of change, in which the media is against disaster factors
  • The viewpoint of dynamicity, change and action: In this viewpoint, the media believes disasters to be part of social dialectic which is necessary for improvement and growth of the society as a whole. [12]

The media using each of these viewpoints must always consider the situation and, for example, remember that in some cases silence in the face of disasters can cause helps and aids to be delayed, thus worsening the situation.

Given the fact that in disaster situations the viewpoints of the media can change the public opinion, the most important question in this situation, also famous as negative spiral, is whether the panic caused by the media can worsen the situation? Can't disasters negatively affect the media that normally should strive to create social and political stability? In other words, if media can affect public opinion to such a degree, under which conditions the media can create a negative spiral and worsen the disaster and when can it help increase stability and control the situation. [13]

Gonzalez, Herro and Perat proposed a model in 1996 which is valuable in all levels of a disaster situation. This model shows that planning is the basis of disaster management and that every organization needs a comprehensive plan for immanent disasters. They believe that this model is highly applicable when faced with accidental and operational disasters as well as the ones caused by mismanagement. This model can also combine problem and disaster management. Disaster management is by nature mostly reactive and concentrates on the disaster after the fact. This model has two main hypothesises that affect all its aspects:

  • Each disaster has a life cycle that can be affected by internal and external factors
  • The best strategy for avoiding negative media coverage is to participate in the known social and fame inducing activities. [14]

This model is designed to control the situations that can happen before, during and after a disaster. Media's role in these stages is as follows [Table 1]: [12]

Due to the important role of the media in disaster management, many studies investigate the role of the media in disaster situations. ZiaeiPour in an article titled 'Media management: A review study of 2003 Iraq war' investigated the actions of the frontline reporters and their role in coverage of news regarding 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He used different methods in order to gather the documents of his study including subscription in the American reporters' association newsletter, a 2-week trip to Iraq in 2004 and interviews with related sources. [15]

Samadi Mirkalaei et al., in a study called 'Disaster management: An emphasis on the necessary role of media in natural disasters' introduced certain definitions of disaster, types of disaster, main factors of a disaster, disaster management, disaster management patterns and disaster process and investigated the role of the mass media in disasters from the point of view of Realism, Marxism and constructivism. They also investigated the role of the media in natural disasters for educating the masses, mobilization of people and officials for rescuing and evacuation of the victims, supporting the officials, shaping public opinions, playing the role of a database and storing the information related to disaster management, creating plans for helping disaster management by gathering and sharing of relevant information and planning for distribution of the humanitarian aids to the disaster areas based on the severity of the disaster. [16]

Elmi Zadeh and Hodaei conducted a study called 'Disaster management regarding earthquake and landslide dangers: A case study of Silakhor plane area'. This study showed that landslide and earthquake in Silakhor plane is to be expected. They also showed that the recent large earthquakes emphasises on the important role of the disaster management factors in controlling the danger and reducing the damages of the earthquake. Therefore, there needs to be some serious considerations regarding prevention and safety actions in the aforementioned area. [17]

Mousavi, Pour Mohammad and Sharif Ara in an article titled 'Media, accidents and disasters and their mutual effects on donors and the role of social media' investigated the importance of media in disasters. They emphasised that Iran is among the top 10 most dangerous countries regarding natural, unnatural and man-made disasters and many of the most important metropolitan centres of Iran are in danger from disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Therefore, people living in dangerous areas need to be educated regarding the natural disasters and basic steps to be taken in case of such disasters by the mass media. This is in fact the main concern of local rescuer teams, Red Crescent, Red Cross and other related organizations. The most important way for dealing with accidents and disasters is preparing the populace and educating them in basic rescue and first aid steps. Media can use their social influence to emphasis these trainings, create the necessary cultural changes and thus help save lives in case of actual disasters. [18]

Nasiri in a study called 'The role of Media in disaster management' investigated the role of the media in managing disasters. Media outlets due to their ability to gather a large audience and their role in shaping public opinion have an important role in disasters and political and economical unrests. Although one expects the media to have a widespread influence on people during disasters, understanding the role of media in these situations is not limited to knowing their use but requires knowledge about general social situation, the main players in the situation and the relation between all organizations involved in the situation. The sum of the actions taken by all the players in a given situation including media can lead to disaster to peace and resolution or the panic caused by the news contributes to worsening the disaster situation. [19]

Ghasabi and Kia published an article titled 'The Influence of media on culture of fashion and fashion orientation'. They believed that given the popularity and availability of media such as television, cinema and satellite TVs among the younger generation they play an important role in shaping the fashion tastes of the youth. Their results showed that the most popular media among the younger generation is Internet with an average use of 4-6 hours per week. [20]

The role of media in unpredictable situations such as natural disasters is more obvious because they have the responsibility to reveal the situation to people and carry the news. Therefore, media can contribute positively by, for example, encouraging people to send humanitarian aids to disaster areas, or instead cause panic and chaos in the society. Thus, the current study aims to investigate the role of media in disaster management of Azerbaijan earthquake.

  Materials and Methods Top

This is an applied study using survey method. The statistical population is all the students of Allameh Tabatabai University of Tehran (17,500 students). By using cluster sampling method and given the fact that this university consists of 7 departments, 50 students were selected from each department for a total sample number of 350 students. The basic analysis unit in this study is a single person.

The data gathering tool is a questionnaire created by the researcher whose validity was confirmed using face validity. The reliability of the questionnaire was confirmed using Cronbach's alpha index of 0.792. This questionnaire contains 19 questions with closed yes-no answers, 8 Likert type questions and one open question. Each question based on the answer type was assigned a code and their information was gathered using these codes. After extraction, coding and transfer of the information to a computer, the frequency and percentage of the gathered data was calculated with the help of Statistical Package of Social Sciences (SPSS) 20 software.

Research findings

The participants were divided into three groups based on their age. Most of the participants were in the age-group of 21 to 25 years which had the frequency of 172 and percentage of 49.1 and two other age-groups showed the frequency of 71 and 58.

The participants were also divided into two groups based on their education level including bachelor students and higher education students. The bachelor students with a frequency of 183 and percentage of 52.3 were the more numerous while the students of higher education levels had the frequency of 146 and percentage of 46.9.

The results also showed that 206 of the participants were female and 142 of them were male. Also 283 of the participants were single while 63 of them were married.

[Table 2] shows the methods of receiving information regarding the earthquake. As can be seen in the [Table 2], 296 people from the total of 350 follow daily news on the media while only 54 people are not informed about daily news. Also 281 people among the participants followed the news on the media while 69 participants did not follow the news. Among a total of 350 participants, 347 of them were informed about Azerbaijan earthquake of 25 Mordad 1391 and only 3 people had not been informed about the earthquake. From this numbers, 248 people followed the news regarding the earthquake while 100 people did not follow the news. Also 118 of the participants had sent aids to the earthquake victims while 225 people had not sent any aid. From the participants, 335 of them followed the news regarding the aftermath of the earthquake while 13 people did not follow the news of the aftermath also 2 people had not answered this question. Regarding the effect of the media in changing the disaster situation, 323 participants believed the media to be effective in changing the situation while 26 of them believed the media to be unable to affect the disaster situation. Furthermore, 216 of the participants believed media coverage to be a useful response in disasters while 128 of the participants believed media coverage as an unsuitable response. It is worth mentioning that a total percentage less than 100 is due to unanswered questions.
Table 2: The participants' use of media for gathering information and following news regarding Azerbaijan earthquake

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[Table 3] shows which media was responsible for informing the participants about Azerbaijan earthquake. The results show that 45.4% of the participants received the news regarding the earthquake from national TV, after which social networks and foreign and satellite TVs had the highest percentage. On the other hand, only 1.1% of the participants had received the news regarding the earthquake from radio and 3 participants had not answered the question. Also, 2.6% of the participant had learned about the earthquake from both foreign and satellite TVs and social media. Remember that total percentage lower than 100 is due to unanswered questions.
Table 3: Method of learning about Azerbaijan earthquake based on media type

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[Table 4] shows that 42.0% of the participants believed that national TV were the most effective media in sharing the news regarding Azerbaijan earthquake and both newspapers and social networks and national TV and news websites together were the least effective media with 0.3%. After national TV, social networks and foreign and satellite TVs were the second and third most effective media. Also 9 participants had not answered this question. Furthermore, 2.9% of the participants had used both national and foreign and satellite TVs in order to gather in the formation regarding the earthquake.
Table 4: The effectiveness of media in Azerbaijan earthquake according to the participants

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According to the results shown in [Table 5], most of the participants (38.3%) believed that media considered the Azerbaijan earthquake to be of moderate importance and most (33.4%) believed the effect of media on increasing the motivation for sending humanitarian aids to the victims to be mediocre.

According to the participants, the amount of news coverage aimed to encourage the populace was high (45.1). Also a moderate number of participants (30.6%) felt panic and anxiety after following the news of the earthquake on the media and most of the participants (49.2%) believed that the media has a high effect on them.
Table 5: The importance of the earthquake and its related topics according to the participants

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As shown in [Table 6], the most clear and transparent newspaper was Hamshahri newspaper (17.4%), the most transparent national TV channel was Iran News Network, INN (23.7%) and the most transparent news agency was Fars News agency (8.9%) according to the participants. Remember that total percentage lower than 100% is due to unanswered questions.
Table 6: The clarity and transparency of the news related to Azerbaijan earthquake in different media according to the participants

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[Figure 1] shows that 82% of the participants had followed the news regarding the earthquake for more than 2 weeks until restoration of normal conditions in the disaster areas.
Figure 1: The willingness of the participants for following the news of the earthquake from the media

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[Figure 2] shows that according to most participants the coverage of the Azerbaijan earthquake in the national media was mediocre and only 12% of the participants considered the media coverage of the incident by national media to be strong. Furthermore, most of the participants considered the foreign media coverage to be mediocre as well (57.9%) but the percentage of the participants that considered the coverage by the foreign media to be strong was higher.
Figure 2: The quality of media coverage of Azerbaijan earthquake in national and foreign media according to the participants

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The following is the results obtained from summarizing the answers to the question 'What problems can be created if media does not pay enough attention in a disaster situation?'

  • Unawareness of the general populace
  • Lack of necessary information for sending humanitarian aid to the victims and delaying of aids
  • Loss of trust in the media
  • Worsening the disaster situations and the problems of survivors
  • Creating ethnic and racial disagreements
  • Feeling of hopelessness in the victims
  • Increase of loss of life and property
  • Decreasing awareness and readiness for future disasters
  • Creating anxiety, chaos, unrest and rumors among the populace
  • Exploitation of the situation by foreign media in order to spread propaganda
  • Feeling of insecurity in the society
  • Increase of psychological problems
  • Worsening the disaster and undermining disaster management.

  Discussion and Conclusion Top

The current study is the result of answers by 350 student of Allameh Tabatabai University of Tehran. Among these numbers, 296 followed the daily news while 54 did not follow the daily news. This shows the importance of news to the participants and students. Most of the participants considered the media to have a high degree of influence on its audience.

Most of the students were aware of Azerbaijan earthquake of 25 of Mordad 1391. It is worth to note that due to the importance of Azerbaijan earthquake compare to other news both national and foreign media had attempted to offer media coverage. According to the participants, the media coverage by both national and foreign media was mediocre.

Most of the participants used national TV in order to follow the news about the incident and considered it to have a more important role compared to other types of media. This can be due to the ease of access and accessibility of this media for a wide range of social groups and also the low reading average of Iran. After national TV, social networks and satellite TV had the next ranks; on the other hand, radio, newspapers, news agencies and news websites were rarely used by the participants to follow the news of the earthquake. However, in another study, investigating fashion TV had the second place after Internet. This shows that national TV is not always the most popular media and other media can take its place based on the subject at hand. [20]

Most of people following the news of the earthquake on the national TV considered Iran News Network (INN) to offer a better coverage compared to other networks. Also among news agencies, Fars News agency offered the best coverage of the incident.

Media play an important role in providing the populace with information regarding earthquakes and problems caused by it. The more media pays more attention to the incidents surrounding this natural disaster, the better the knowledge of people regarding the incident will be which can also help calm the victims. Media can act as a tool for encouraging or preventing people from certain actions. Therefore, media can encourage a lot of people to offer humanitarian aids to the victims. Although news coverage of disasters and similar incidents can have positive results for aiding the victims, one must not forget the possibility of creating anxiety and panic among the populace. Therefore, all media must endeavour to cover the incidents in a way that does not cause anxiety or panic. As mentioned before, due to the large number of audience and their role in shaping public opinion, the media play an important role in disasters [19] which can result in encouraging people to aid the victims or instead cause panic and thus improve or worsen the situation.

One of the duties of media is to follow the aftermaths of an incident. The role of media in accidents and disasters is important before, during and after the incident. One must not forget that news coverage after the incident is as important as coverage during the incident, especially given the promises given to the disaster victims by officials and government which need to be followed through. Therefore, continued media coverage of the incident can be highly effective and help disaster management. As shown in previous studies, the best course of action when dealing with accidents and disasters is increasing the readiness of the people, culture building using the media and teaching the necessary skills such as basic rescue and first aid skills. [18]

One of the main complains of those directly involved in the Azerbaijan earthquake was the promotional nature of the coverage regarding famous people visiting disaster sites. People expect the media to offer an accurate, correct and real coverage of every incident instead of offering a limited and promotional coverage.

In the end, it is worth mentioning that although noting can be done to prevent natural disasters from happening; their adverse effect can be greatly reduced with correct foresight and management. The fact that natural disasters can often result in disaster and crisis is due to organization, management and behaviour of the society. All type of media play an important and vital role in natural disaster management, early warning systems, mass education of the populace regarding the unpredictable incidents and can help reduce the financial and humanitarian cost of natural disasters. Media both covers the news of the disaster and encourages people to offer aid to the victims and help reduce their suffering. People expect the media to offer accurate, non-promotional and impartial coverage of accidents and disasters and continue to follow the aftermaths of the incidents in order to keep the attention of people and officials on the incident and follow up on the promises given to the victims.

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]


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