The media has played a very huge role in covering the COVID-19 pandemic since the first case was reported in China on 31 December 2019. The media from all over the world was and still is, very instrumental in its communication role in informing the masses about COVID-19, even as new information about the virus continues to emerge.
With the rise in digital media, online publications have taken the center stage in sharing real-time information data about the virus, making it a more convenient medium for many people.
In this article we talk about the role of the media in containing the COVID-19 pandemic
Information and facts
On 31st December 2019, the Chinese Authorities alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) of a ‘mystery pneumonia’ in Wuhan, China.
In January 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak was already widely-known and positive cases started being reported from other countries other than China. By March 2020, huge positive cases of COVID-19 were already dominating the news headlines across global media outlets.
The media was also becoming more and more informed about the virus and were reporting on each and every emerging aspect of it. When it was confirmed that the virus was being spread through human contact with an infected person, preventive measures such as social distancing, regular washing of hands, sanitizing and wearing of face masks were put in place, to minimize the spread of the virus and save lives. The masses had to be widely informed about these containment measures. The media took up its communication and dissemination of information role and graciously started spreading the gospel of social distancing, sanitizing, washing hands and wearing masks. A Lot of campaigns were done to help people understand that they had to strictly follow these measures to contain the spread of the virus. True to say that after people started following these measures, the numbers started to significantly drop.
At the same time, it was challenging to keep up with the amount of misinformation that was equally spreading all over; from the 5G conspiracy theories, Bill Gates involvements and with some claims that the virus was created as a biological weapon. It’s unfortunate that some media outlets still published these misinformations before fact-checking. Social media outlets also played a huge role spreading misconstrued and confusing information about the COVID-19.
The WHO, in an effort to stop the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, hosted a webinar by representatives from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Geneva, Switzerland), BBC Media Action (London, UK), Internews (CA, USA) and urged media houses to stick to reporting accurate information about the virus. Journalists were urged to keep up to date with the outbreak using reliable data from respective health departments and the WHO, and to fact-check information for credibility.
The media houses took up this challenge and even started providing infographics breaking down the number of tested cases. Some even went ahead and exposed governments mishandling COVID-19 resources and how citizens were being treated in quarantine.
By doing so, the media ensured governments were being held accountable.
By providing factual, reliable and credible information, governments, health workers, scientists, researchers and the general public are put into the light on what is exactly happening, thereby making it easier to find a solution.
COVID-19 and new Media
‘’The production and distribution of news has filtered beyond the traditional newsroom, enabled by digital technologies. Free from legacy media hierarchies and business models, the producers of this content are building audiences and exposing them to a wider range of news perspectives and story approaches.’’ Wambui Wamunyu, a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies, Daystar University wrote in an article published on The Conversation.
These online media platforms are still doing their best to keep us informed about the virus. A pressing problem with this new media was however the spread of misinformation which has always been so common in the political sphere but also found its way in healthcare, especially regarding Covid and vaccination.
Social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter provided direct access to an unprecedented amount of content and amplified rumours and questionable information about COVID-19. In fact, in China, the country is facing a huge challenge in tackling COVID-19 misinformation on social media.
Despite all this, these digital media platforms were still crucial communication tools for information generation, dissemination and consumption. These platforms were used to communicate health information to the general public during the pandemic.
Bottom line, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on most countries across the world, media houses and online publications need to play their role in educating the public. They need to use their power to disseminate crucial information about the virus to the public.