Media urged to improve coverage of disability issues

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Ishmael Ndlovu

ZIMBABWEAN journalists have been urged to prioritise reporting on disability issues by setting up disability desks in newsrooms and changing attitudes towards coverage of disability.

This comes amid general reluctance by media houses in the southern African country to cover disability issues, in preference of political and other stories that are considered more attractive.

The sentiments came out of a focus group discussion organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO in conjunction with the Swedish International Development Agency, SIDA in Harare on Tuesday.

The focus group comprised journalists from different media houses and officials from UNESCO and SIDA.

Disability activist and journalist, Soneni Gwizi said there is need for media training colleges to introduce modules on disability reporting. She called on reporters to write unique stories on disability and to write more on the subject.

“Journalism colleges should introduce disability reporting in their curriculum and reporters should not just write ordinary stories but unique ones that will win them awards of journalism excellence,” she said.  

UNESCO regional advisor for Communication and information, Al-Amin Yusuph said there is need to come up with a deliberate plan for disability coverage. He said there is need to monitor positive reportage of disability issues in the media and to come up with data on the coverage of disability issues in the media. Mr Yusuph also called for policy guidelines at national level for reporting disability as well as guidelines on appropriate language to use.

“We should come up with indicators to monitor positive reportage but also if we can have enough media monitoring reports as a baseline, to see where we are.

“We need to strengthen our efforts in the area of policy, at national level, but also at the media house level,” he said.

Mr Yusuph said editorial policies should be inclusive of disability coverage and incentives such as awards should be introduced for disability reporting.

He also said citizen journalism in the area of disability should be introduced, and include persons with disabilities. Mr Yusuph also said the coming of community and campus radio stations should present an opportunity for disability reporting, adding that radio stations should take advantage of this move by the Government of Zimbabwe.

One of the panelists said past efforts aimed at encouraging reportage of disability issues have targeted reporters and left out editors who are the decision-makers in the newsrooms and said future endeavours should target the editors for change to happen.

An association of disability reporters was also proposed and on-line reporting of disability issues was  encouraged at the focus group discussion.

Convenor of the discussion, journalist and disability activist, Brian Sithole, said despite shortage of resources in most newsrooms, journalists can still find ways of covering disability through innovative ways such as using on-line and social media platforms.

“I know most media houses say they cannot cover disability issues because there are many other competing stories and resources such as vehicles are limited, but journalists can go around that by using on-line platforms, social media and writing blogs,” he said.

The World Health Organisation and World Bank Report on Disability 2011 says globally, persons with disabilities are estimated at 15% (1 billion) of the world’s population and there is an increase of prevalence in disability rates due to chronic illnesses and other factors.

According to UNICEF, in Zimbabwe, persons with disabilities account for 7% of the population and women and girls with disabilities are considered among one of the most vulnerable population groups.