Wednesday, August 11, 2010

IRIN ... a UN supported journalistic effort

Dear Colleagues

I read the IRIN articles quite frequently ... they are ofter very interesting. My criticism of them is that they are journalism with little permanent impact when in fact the data could be used in a more structured way in order to monitor progress.

It was therefore good news to hear they wanted to survey their users ... and in this survey there was the opportunity to make some comments. This is what I said to them:
IRIN does some great reporting ... some very good articles. But they are only journalism and the relief and development sector needs data that are enabled so that decisions can be made and key individuals and organizations held accountable. I have tried many times to "follow up" with IRIN about issues that you have reported that needed action ... but your comment and feedback mechanism never worked. You may have a budget for journalism, but it being used to create "interest" but not being used to do very much that delivers "value". Sad ... but very normal!

Peter Burgess
Of course, the problem with mixing journalism and anything that might be associated with accountability is that sources can dry up and access blocked to interesting information. But there are clearly some important socio-economic relief and development performance issues that need to be addressed ... and the organizations engaged in these matters are avoiding these matters like the plague.

Here is a little example ... the URL is

Josephine, "I won't leave until I point out the rapists to the police"
March 2010 (IRIN)

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
This woman was attacked by six men in a camp for displaced people in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Josephine*, 17, was living alone on the streets of Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. She lost the few belongings she had - mostly clothes. She now stays at the Jean-Marie Vincent camp for displaced families.

She has no family members in the camp. One night around midnight, she told IRIN, she was looking for somewhere to sleep when two young men - one with a machete, the other with a wooden club - grabbed her.

"They came towards me and then I realized there were four others with them. They dragged me into a tent. They held my mouth closed and blindfolded me. They took off my underwear. I was on the ground and one by one they raped me.

"Each time I tried to scream they pressed even harder on my mouth. They hit me.

"At about 2am they put me outside. A young man found me and helped me find somewhere to go.

"Now whenever I see the youths who raped me they whisper and point at me. I avoid walking by the tent where they did this.

"I want to leave this camp but before that I want to have these men arrested. The day I see policemen in the camp I will bring them to where these men live. I know about bringing people to justice because in cases of violence in my neighbourhood I have seen police come and arrest people.

"I used to go to church but I no longer go because I don't have nice clothes to wear. I miss it a lot but one must look nice to go to church."

* Not her real name

If IRIN had any leverage ... and if the UN had any interest in metrics about progress and performance, there should have been some follow up about this. The reader is left hanging. This report is from March 2010 yet it is still clickable from a top page of the IRIN website ... and nothing about follow up.

It seems that the UN and IRIN are only in the PR business ... avoiding accountability ... and making rather mediocre performance on top of huge needs. There have to be better ways!

Peter Burgess

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