TODAY -

Role of media in combating Covid pandemic : Indian perspective

Dr A Ibomcha Sharma *



Media plays a pivotal role in combating COVID-19 pandemic and has been shouldering the responsibility as a brigade of frontline warriors helping the public administration in informing the people about all aspects of pandemic management and public safety awareness.

Media gives the critical feedback to the administration so that various aspects of COVID-19 management are fine-tuned and discrepancies are corrected by the administration at the earliest possible in such an emergency situation. Taking the risk of life and with the spirit of sacrifice to save humanity, media persons in print, electronic and online media have been performing their duty of informing and educating the people of the functional requirements necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic and ways and means to ensure individual and community safety in the fight against the pandemic.

Media in India and particularly media in Manipur have shown exceptional maturity in handling sensitive information and have effectively informed the people of the ways in which they can stay safe and prevent the pandemic from spreading. However, our media should not be complacent as the threat of the pandemic is still looming large.

Ways and means for better coordination have to be looked into between the administration and media for a more efficient communication strategy to ensure the public to get fully benefitted from the social, health and financial interventions that the Government of India and Government of Manipur are taking up to help the people during the difficult days of the pandemic.

The pivotal role played by the media in such a situation of global health emergency is appreciated by one and all. However, with the availability of plethora of social media channels and OTT (over the top) platforms, the possibility of circulating misinformation or fake news just on a click has also risen, deterring public response to Government initiatives to contain the pandemic and creating fear psychosis to common people which will bring about a detrimental situation in the fight against COVID-19.

It is very encouraging for both public and private media in India that they have timely devised a mechanism to respond to such an information pandemic (infodemic) with fact checks and channelise the same not only in print and electronic media but also widely circulating the same on social media platforms countering such misinformation, constantly highlighting and reinforcing preventive and safety messages.

The global community has witnessed the devastating effects of COVID-19 in every walk of life. Education, agriculture, industry and service sector around the globe, are some among the most affected areas by the pandemic. For the whole world in general and particularly for a country like India with a high population and vast geographical area, recovering from the losses in many sectors caused by the pandemic and efforts to bring back the sectors on the normal tract wonít be an easy task.

We must sail through a paradigm shift, working in a new normal. It is a testing time for the policy makers, pathfinders and authorities in administration at different capacities to prove their worth.The role of media in bringing back to normalcy these sectors also is critically important.

To be very honest and just looking at education only in a State like Manipur, the preparations to go to a new normal of education with a blended mix of offline and online modes of imparting education canít be claimed adequate as we have hundreds of academic institutions without modern IT infrastructure. And it is not possible to achieve it in few months. Dissemination of education through private and public media is really a possibility at the advent of another phase of COVID-19.

Human civilization is the witness, such pandemics had attacked the humanity time and again, but all got defended and defeated. The best healer, panacea of all pandemics and their associated problems were borne from human mind. This time also, human efforts to contain the pandemic have shown giving yield. Different vaccines have been manufactured and our country has also developed its own version of vaccine in the fight against the pandemic.

Print, electronic and online media in the country are on their mission to serve the people with the right information. They have even designed a new strategy for media in the Covid environment which will not only serve the present purpose but also pave the way to frame policy parameters in the days to come in such situations to sustain media engagement to carry forward human civilization.

In an online interaction with journalists and stakeholders from print media on 24 March, 2020, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi said that media has played a praiseworthy role in disseminating information to every nook and corner of this Nation. The network of media is pan-India and spread across cities and villages. This makes the media all the more significant in fighting this challenge and spreading correct information about it at micro level.

Radio, television and newspapers carry tremendous credibility at National, regional and local levels. It is essential to inform people about where the Covid testing centres are, who should get tested, whom to contact to get tested and follow home isolation protocols as well as Covid vaccination centres.

This information should be shared in electronic and print media and on the web portals or social media handles of newspapers, radio and television channels. Information like location of availability of essential items during lockdowns and the importance of social distancing, frequent hand washing and proper use of face mask are to be highlighted regularly.

The common people are to be informed about the lockdown decision by State administrations, and also highlight the impact of spread of the virus, through inclusion of international data and case studies about other countries in the newspapers. It is imperative to tackle the spread of pessimism, negativity and rumour mongering. Citizens need to be assured that the Government is committed to counter the impact of COVID-19, for preventing the spread of panic through sharing information about proactive, pre-emptive and graded response of the Government.

Vice-President of India Shri M Venkaiah Naidu on his Facebook post titled Media: Our Partner in Corona Times dealt at length with the role of media over the last few months since the Corona virus outbreak and complimented the media and media persons for effectively discharging their core function of informing, educating and empowering the people to cope with the pandemic and for being an important part of our lives during the crisis as trusted partners. When people run into adversity, they look for information regarding its causes and consequences, its duration and the means of coping with it and it falls on the Central and State Governments and media to equip the people accordingly.

Besides being a communication vehicle for taking informed actions against the spread of coronavirus and fighting the disease, media played the role of a bridge between the people and the government for regular communication on the preparedness. Media also sets the agenda for debates in the parliamentary institutions with analytical insights into various aspects of the pandemic and its impacts on different sections of the society.

We have seen not only in National media but also in local print and electronic media special communication campaigns to promote preventive measures like wearing masks, social distancing, frequent washing of hands, healthy eating, regular exercises, spiritual orientation etc.

Fighting fake news on media is an important area which canít be overlooked by both the authorities in administration and media circle during emergency situations like living with Corona. Roping in institutions of higher studies and scientific research for joint engagements in the fight against the pandemic is also critically important. Around 700 Indian scientists from all over the world voluntarily established the Indian Scientistsí Response to COVID-19 (ISRC) platform to provide authenticated and factual information to the public, which can be accessed through the website, indscicov.in.

The right and scientific information is available in many regional languages in the website, thus helping to refute the various misinformation and fake news. The website also provides inputs regarding maintaining mental health, societal issues related to the deadly virus, scientific research and healthcare-oriented information. Similarly,Covid Gyan, an initiative of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Indian Institute of Science (IISc), bring together various resources related to COVID-19.

Social media, a double-edged sword with a sizeable chunk of its users in young age group, carries both facts as well as fake news and especially during the pandemic, Government and private organisations like Prasar Bharati, Press Information Bureau, India Science TV, Indian Scientistsí Response to COVID-19 (ISRC) and Covid Gyan, National and regional channels of television and radio, community radio etc. play an active role in enlightening the people about the right and timely information.

India Science TV, a science-based OTT platform of Government of Indiaís Department of Science and Technology streams many documentaries related to COVID-19 apart from the regular official bulletin on the same.

Regional kendras of All India Radio and Doordarshan, Bureau of Outreach and Communication through its Regional Outreach Bureaus and Field Outreach Bureaus and regional and branch offices of Press Information Bureau are engaging themselves not only in dissemination of information but also in countering fake news and misinformation to contain COVID-19 pandemic, when social media, WhatsApp in particular, has emerged as a major source of information. This has helped the public at large with the right information and the show must go on in the larger interest of the humanity.

Bibliography

1. Media: Our Partner in Corona Times, Facebook post of Vice President of India Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, 19 July, 2020
2. Vice President hails media for partnering with people in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, https://pib.gov.in, 19 July, 2020
3. The Role of Social Media in the Advent of COVID-19 Pandemic: Crisis Management, Mental Health Challenges and Implications, Jaffar Abbas et al, Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, Vol. 14, 2021, www.dovepress.com
4. PM interacts with Print Media journalists and stakeholders, https://pib.gov.in, 24 March, 2020
5. COVID-19: Fighting fake news more challenging than the pandemic, https://pib.gov.in, 14 December, 2020


* Dr A Ibomcha Sharma, IIS wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Asst. Director/Head of Office Regional Outreach Bureau, Imphal,
Bureau of Outreach and Communication, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India
and can be contacted at draishar(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 15 2021 .



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