Repairing Haitian Radio

Internews sends team of specialists, technicians to restore local broadcasting

With radio and television news outlets crippled by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti last week, Internews, an international media development organization, announced Wednesday that it was sending a team to the impoverished island nation to help get broadcasters back up and running. The team began to arrive on Friday, and over the weekend I sent a list of questions to Jeanne Bourgault, Chief Operating Officer of Internews, asking about the group’s progress. Communications with the team have been more sporadic than anticipated, but Bourgault offered her assessment of the situation as of Sunday evening.

Curtis Brainard:: How did this effort come about, and how was it organized?

Jeanne Bourgault: Internews has long seen firsthand that quality news and information is crucial in times of crisis, and the best people to communicate information are local journalists reporting for local populations. Two years ago, Internews was extremely fortunate to attract the support of the MacArthur Foundation, which allowed us to establish a fund for quick reaction to humanitarian disasters, such as the one now being experienced in Haiti. And just this week we were grateful to receive $200,000 from the Knight Foundation for this work. We’ve done similar work following the Indian Ocean Tsunami, in refugee camps in Africa, and after a major earthquake in Pakistan. When we heard the news from Haiti, we started putting the response team together immediately. We already had one team member on the ground, and others came in overland via the Dominican Republic.

CB: How big is your team, who’s on board, and why (for example, media specialists to do X and radio technicians to do Y)?

JB: The team consists of:

Mark Frohardt: Internews’s vice president for Africa and Health and Humanitarian Media. He will oversee the team during initial start-up. Mark is an experienced humanitarian assistance provider and a specialist on the information needs of communities in crisis.

Phillip Allouard: Operations manager and Internews overall coordinator in country. Phillip has been working with Internews in Haiti for the past year, and has deep relations with our partner network of community radio stations.

Matt Abud: Will take over as team leader following Mark’s departure. Matt has deep experience in working with the media in humanitarian crises, ranging from Indonesia to Pakistan to Sri Lanka.

Yves Colon: Yves is an experienced journalist with deep ties to Haiti, having worked with local media there for a number of years.

Horea Salajan: Horea is a former BBC reporter and experienced media development professional.

Jacobo Quintanilla: Jacobo is being seconded from the Internews program in Sri Lanka, where he runs a humanitarian media program. Jacobo will be our initial liaison with the humanitarian community.

CB: What kind of equipment is the team bringing to Haiti, and why?

JB: Additional response team members arrived [Sunday, Jan. 17] and brought in two small broadcasting units, several crates of wind-up radios, a generator, and several power inverters. We have a production studio already in country, and will come with resources to assist journalists and stations with equipment grants and stipends. We expect tremendous need for satellite phones, mini-disc recorders, and broadcasting equipment.

CB: What is the status of the local media (tv, radio, mobile devices, etc.) in Haiti right now (broadcasting, off air, etc.)?

JB: We understand that as of today there are twelve local radio stations back on the air in Port-au-Prince and one national broadcaster. Internews is attempting to contact a forty-member network of community radio stations with whom it has worked in the past [on a development program known as RAMAK] in order to assess not only their safety, but also the state of their station’s infrastructure and broadcasting capabilities. One station has responded that the “situation is unimaginable and worse than anyone can predict.”

CB: What will be the team’s first priorities upon arrival? What is its strategy?

JB: The team will quickly assess which stations are broadcasting, which ones are not, where the journalists are, and what they need to keep their newsrooms operational. We may find they need equipment, such as radio towers, or maybe they need generators to run the transmitters. We may find they need something as simple yet crucial as salaries. We will also quickly establish a humanitarian information radio program that will be available for broadcast on all functioning stations.

CB: What does this effort hope to accomplish, and why is it important?

JB: Local media reporting for their local audiences are the best conduits for information in times like these. They know their audiences, their needs, their concerns, and of course they can reach them in their own language. We also design our support with an eye towards the long-term development and viability of a healthy media sector in Haiti. We want these resources to fill the immediate humanitarian need, while also contributing to longer-term development needs.

CB: How much does Internews have to spend on this effort overall, and where is that money coming from?

JB: So far, we have raised $250,000 from private sources, specifically the Knight Foundation and MacArthur Foundation. We have additional private contribution requests outstanding and hope to work with the U.S. Agency for International Development on further funding. Our goal is to raise $1 million. With this support from funders, our goal is to help the local media get back up and running so that they can provide life-saving information to the people of Haiti. For more information and to support fellow journalists in Haiti, please go to

Update, 11:45 a.m.: On Friday, On the Media’s Bob Garfield interviewed Mark Frohardt, Internews’s vice president for Health and Humanitarian Media, as he prepared to leave for Haiti to direct the group’s efforts to restore local media broadcasting. Listen here:

Update, 12:00 p.m.:’s Alan Boyle had a fascinating piece on Thursday about the importance of satellites at many levels of the relief and recovery effort in Haiti. Not only can satellite maps and images help rescuers identify the worst hit places in a disaster zone and plan relief efforts, they are an integral piece of communications infrastructure. While Internews concentrates on restoring Haitian media broadcasting, a group called Telecoms Sans Frontieres is working to reestablish other data and voice links:

Here again, satellites are coming to the rescue. Telecoms Sans Frontieres, a French-based international relief organization, was among the first on the scene with BGAN terminals. (The acronym, pronounced “bee-gan”, stands for broadband global area network.)

The BGAN devices are about as big as a netbook or laptop computer, and cost from $1,000 to $4,000 each. They provide a mobile hookup for phone or data communication (wireless or wired) through the Inmarsat satellite network, at rates that are structured like cell-phone plans (but more expensive).

Telecoms Sans Frontieres is hooking up terminals to facilitate communications for U.N. relief workers in Haiti, and will eventually let Haitians make free two-minute phone calls to anywhere in the world … The next stage involves putting down small satellite dishes (known as VSATs, or very small aperture terminals) to beef up the communications networks.

Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.