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Deepening the media’s coverage of COVID-19 – Part 2

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Continued from yesterday
Social or Physical Distancing: How realistic is it in our large, high-density neighbourhoods? Rather than mimic what obtains elsewhere, we can direct our reporting on different neighbourhoods to convey the reality of life there, interview the members on their understanding of the concept, analyse the findings in a way to stimulate action from regulatory authorities and relevant NGOs.

Regular Hand-washing: How readily available is clean water? Is there an opportunity here for companies to make other meaningful interventions through their Corporate Social Responsibility? Rather than being fixated with donating bags of rice, garri, and beans, is this an opportunity for charities to tailor their donations to areas of long-lasting benefit? Use of 60 per cent-alcohol-based hand sanitizer:  This product provides the media the opportunity to verify, validate, and highlight local initiatives to produce such hand sanitizers that may prove helpful in areas that lack a regular supply of water.

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Use of facial mask: This is to shield the nose and mouth in public from exposure to droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The media should promote its proper use and encourage local efforts in producing quality masks.
Self-isolation: How disciplined are our people in this regard? The media should play up more success stories of regular people, not just celebrities, who self-isolated and overcame the menace of Covid-19.

Testing: Since the focus now is on community transmission, the media can begin to examine the rate of testing in the communities by educating our audiences on what the test entails? Where are people tested? Media reports can begin to re-examine the current practice of testing only those who manifest the symptoms? What is responsible for the low no of tests? What should be done to improve it? Do people need to pay to be tested?

Contact tracing, Quarantine, and Treatment: How cooperative is the public? How can the effort be enhanced? What’s the experience of the health officials? Beyond the statistics of those who died, recovered and were discharged, what’s going on behind the scene the public needs to know? From the survivors, can we get a peep into what a day in their life looked like while in isolation centres? What did they eat? What went on in their minds? These lessons need to be brought out so the general public can connect and understand the severity and reality of the challenge?

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Question Statistics
Another issue that requires more attention is the use of statistics. Some of us are familiar with Joel Best’s book, Damned Lies and Statistics, which speaks about the dual purpose of the use of statistics to support or weaken an argument. How well do the statistics we enthusiastically publish expand public understanding of the story? When we say Lagos leads in the number of those who have tested positive, what’s the level of testing being done? What’s the population of the states being tested? How widespread is the testing conducted on a local government basis? What’s the ratio of the positive cases relative to the population in major cities like Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, and Enugu?

Explain the Role of Caregivers
The Caregivers are the medical doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists and technicians, paramedics, ambulance drivers, cleaners, etc. How well are we conveying the price being paid by these caregivers? Where are the stories of heroism and diligence? How well are their employers responding to their personal welfare? What is the experience of volunteers? Who can volunteer? How should government and communities respond to the menace of Area boys said to have prevented an ambulance from evacuating a patient because they wanted to be bribed first? What frustrations are they facing? Is there a shortage of tools that is hampering their work that the public needs to know for necessary intervention? Is there a shortage of ambulances, beds that is preventing them from responding promptly to distress calls as illustrated by the story of the Lagos lawyer whose telephone call for help April 26 was not heeded until six hours after?

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Examine Lockdown as Containment Strategy
Beyond reading about the threat of invasion by the mythical “one million boys” threatening to invade communities and the resistance efforts, the lockdown offered the media opportunity to examine its impact on individuals and communities. How did it affect usually active people who suddenly became inactive? How are children coping with their inability to be physically present in school? Beyond official pronouncement, how well is the online teaching working in public and private schools?  What reliefs did schools give to parents, if any? Faced with the closure of worship centres for six weeks, what challenges are posed to believers’ faith? What will be the impact on future mode of worship? Using examples from various sectors, how did the closure also affect business? What was the experience working from home? What does the future portend? On law enforcement, what lessons can be drawn from the exercise? How effective has it been? How can unintended consequences of shooting citizens at checkpoints in the name of enforcement be prevented? What are the stories across borders of uniformed law officials collecting bribes to pass people?

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic is a call to arms to rescue humanity from an invisible enemy. Serious in scope and deadly in consequence, it is a call to arms to do everything within our spheres of influence to battle it through understanding borne out of knowledge and compassion. We need more nuanced interpreting of the facts. We need to bring the reality of the pandemic home, using symbols to which our audiences can connect.

The reporting this time must be public-spirited, solution-focused, evaluative, factual, fair, and hope-inspiring. Our survival as a nation and as an industry deserves no less.
Concluded.

Idowu, supervising trustee, Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, presented this paper at a recent webinar.

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