At around 23.00 hrs local time on 8 September, an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale hit central Morocco. The death toll is near 3,000* and this figure is expected to rise.
Although the epicentre was in a sparsely populated area of the High Atlas Mountains, the impact has been felt in areas over 70 km away, including Marrakesh where buildings have collapsed with devastating effects. A major rescue effort continues to search for survivors, though rescue teams have been reportedly hampered by blocked roads leading to some of the hardest-hit and remotest areas in the mountains.
Abderrahmane Naji is Deputy Director in charge of TV News Coordination at EBU Member, SNRT (Société Nationale de Radiodiffusion et de Télévision) in Morocco. He says, “This had never happened for us before. We had to turn into a 24-hour news channel but without the staff, the technology or the back-up. We’ve got just three drones, six crew and five SNGs (satellite news gathering) for transmitting images and sound signals. The biggest challenge has been trying to get to remote areas made even more inaccessible by the earthquake, so we've been hitching lifts on army helicopters. Another big challenge is the amount of fake news that has been knocking us off course, including misleading information, wrong locations and directions.
“But even though we’re without sleep and without food, we have to do it. People are relying on us. We really appreciate our friends at Eurovision News. They are helping us tell the world what is happening here. We will be forever grateful.”
Cathy Milner, News Editor, Eurovision News Exchange (EVN), was the weekend News Editor when first reports of the earthquake came through: “I was hugely impressed with SNRT’s performance over the weekend. They reacted so quickly to the breaking news, and never flagged in the hours afterwards. They gave us everything our Members needed to tell this terrible story.”
Members of the EBU employ approximately 45,000 journalists across public service media outlets worldwide. The Moroccan broadcaster provided a vast amount of footage. Items included ground shots of the damaging impact of the earthquake; drone images; interviews with people in the devastated areas; scenes from hospitals and people lining up to give blood; people sleeping on the streets; search and rescue operations for the missing; and Interior Ministry updates on the numbers of people who have perished.
Milner adds, “We also had excellent eyewitness cover from the Eurovision Social Newswire. EBU staff who were either in Marrakech, or knew people who were, gave us aftermath pictures and their reactions to the earthquake. Thankfully all were shocked but safe.”
Eimear Lowe is Foreign Editor at RTÉ News & Current Affairs and Chair of the EBU Editorial Subcommittee, “Time and time again we see the value of relationships between public service broadcasters. The terrible earthquake in Morocco is further proof. Those hardest hit are living in remote, almost inaccessible villages in the Atlas Mountain region. They are in desperate need of outside help and the tireless work of SNRT means that the world can bear witness to their plight.
“For those broadcasters who cannot travel to the region, it is invaluable in helping us tell this important story. But even for those of us who do have a presence in Morocco, it compliments and broadens our news-gathering efforts.”
Eurovision News Events, first deployed in Marrakech, near Jemaa el-Fnaa, offered a live stand-up position through its local partners DJV Graficos. It was quickly apparent that villages in the remote mountainous region of the Atlas were hardest hit. With the support of close local contact and partner Paris WebCube, News Events deployed a team near the epicentre and set up a live position for clients and Members. They also provided live and taped news coverage of the extensive devastation and rescue efforts in the villages of Azni and Ouirgane.
This national tragedy has attracted high levels of public interest and concern from across the world – and public service media news outlets are providing a corresponding amount of coverage.
France Télévisions produced a special evening in solidarity with Morocco – “Solidarité Maroc” – which included special reports from the affected region, including how the broadcaster had mobilised resources to relay the story.
Like many EBU Members, Czech TV has been broadcasting around the clock with a special breaking news focus in the immediate hours after the event. They’ve covered at length an offer made by the Czech government to send rescuers who have been on stand-by at airports across the country.
In Spain, RTVE has launched a campaign to help the earthquake victims via the non-governmental organizations working in the affected areas. The campaign, broadcast on TV, radio and online, under the name “Let's show solidarity with Morocco", encourages viewers to donate here.
RTVE is present in the disaster area, reporting on the major developments as rescue services search for life in the rubble. Other public media with a strong on-the-ground presence include BBC (UK), DK (Denmark), NHK (Japan), and RTBF (Belgium), to name just four.
Liz Corbin, EBU Head of News, comments: “The unique value of the Eurovision News Exchange is that in a breaking news story, the whole Membership benefits from immediate access to the expertise of a national broadcaster. In this case, the SNRT team provided unrivalled coverage extremely quickly, while dealing with the most challenging of personal circumstances.”
She adds, “The chaos around natural disasters can cause a corresponding amount of mis- and disinformation which only adds to the misery of the people affected and those deeply concerned for them. Public service media news outlets play a huge role in providing impartial, independent and accurate news, that uses credible sources and robust verification of eyewitness accounts. In crisis, trusted news is absolutely essential.”
*Correct at time of publication