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MCDEM to review overseas media handling

4 May 2006

MCDEM to review overseas media handling

The Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management is to review the way it handles information flows after erroneous overseas media reports caused unnecessary alarm in New Zealand.

Misreporting by the BBC overnight led many people to believe a tsunami as heading for New Zealand. It was not. The Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management had been monitoring the tsunami risk to New Zealand since the earthquake in Tonga at 3.27am, and at no stage was there any indication that New Zealand communities were at risk.

The Ministry’s National Crisis Management Centre staff were, within ten minutes of the earthquake, in contact with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii to monitor the tsunami risk to New Zealand, and report on any action needed in Tonga or other Pacific islands. In the event there was no risk to New Zealand and no warning was issued in New Zealand.

Civil Defence Minister Rick Barker says the Ministry’s response to the tsunami alert itself was effective. There are regular warnings or alerts about possible tsunamis – about a dozen a year.

Mr Barker said that “this is the first time foreign media reporting has caused such problems.

“It would have been much better this morning if we had realised sooner what was being reported internationally and immediately alerted all New Zealand authorities and media what was really happening.

"Clearly, had the situation been reported accurately, there would have been no problem. We need to do more to guard against such misreporting," he said.

“The Ministry will be looking carefully at the dissemination of information to the media and all our Civil Defence partners. The provision of authorised reports from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management may be the best guard agains inaacurate and misleading reports that unnecessarily alarm the public.

We will also be looking at better ways of telling New Zealanders and the New Zealand media that there is no emergency when warnings and alerts have been withdrawn or downgraded," he said.

ENDS

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