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What should be considered when using mass media to communicate about COVID-19?
What should be considered when using mass media to communicate about COVID-19?
Anika Jain avatar
Written by Anika Jain
Updated over a week ago

Radio as a delivery channel:

Radio can be used to communicate in many different ways including via radio dramas, public service announcements, panel discussions, call-in discussions, competitions, news content, feature pieces, or story-telling. Radio is typically more cost-effective than other mass media options (e.g. much cheaper than TV) and is often more widely accessible in LMIC settings. Other benefits of radio are that it allows for some two-way interaction (e.g. with people calling in to express their opinions), it is often regarded as a legitimate source of information, it allows for standardised messaging (e.g. recorded content can be aired multiple times with no compromise on quality of delivery) and can be used to reach remote populations. In some cases, key messages are communicated within communities via ‘miking,’ by using loudspeakers on tuk tuks or vehicles to reach parts of the population that may not receive important information otherwise. Because radio content is typically broadcast to a large region or across the nation, this limits the ability to tailor content to specific audiences or contexts. In most countries there are multiple radio stations of varying popularity across the country, meaning that your organisation may have to work with multiple radio stations to achieve sufficient reach.

Here are some tips and considerations if using radio as a delivery channel:

  • Station mapping - Before beginning radio-based work, take time to understand radio station preferences in the country or region where you work so you can maximise your coverage. Ask about which stations are most listened to (in some cases this information may be publically available), the times of the day when people normally tune in, and people’s favourite radio personalities.

  • Try to incorporate a range of ‘voices’ - Challenging misinformation and getting people to adhere to COVID-19 preventative behaviours requires us to draw on a range of influential individuals. This may include public health experts, government leaders, local leaders, people who have had COVID-19 and can draw on their direct experience, and people who have successfully adopted preventative actions despite contextual challenges. For example, in Nigeria, COVID-19 prevention messages were recorded by religious leaders from various regions and in Zambia WaterAid created an online interactive radio report which allowed people to listen to how a community activist and community nurse are working to promote good hygiene to prevent COVID-19. Also consider bringing in people with disabilities or those from marginalised communities to understand how they are being affected by COVID-19 and how they perceive the virus.

  • Think of ways to engage listeners and make radio more participative - Radio does not have to be a one way mode of information sharing. Try to use a mix of the formats mentioned above to keep content interesting and dynamic. Call-in shows can be particularly engaging, however if you are planning a call-in session it’s important to have people who are able to answer people’s questions and challenge misinformation. In Rwanda, WaterAid has been working with school children to develop radio dramas which reflect their local experiences. In Burkina Faso, Development Media International worked to develop catchy radio spots by first conducting surveys among the local population.

  • Partner with and develop the capacity of local radio stations - You may need to conduct some initial advocacy and capacity building work to help radio stations understand the critical role they play within the COVID-19 response. For example the WHO trained radio presenters in Burkina Faso on effective communication practices. This webinar provides an overview of the media’s critical role during the pandemic and BBC Media Action have also developed this guide for effective reporting and media use.

Television as a delivery channel:

Similar to radio, television can be used to deliver content in a variety of ways. This may include content delivered as TV dramas, public service announcements, panel discussions, news content, feature pieces, and commercials. Television is usually seen as a legitimate source of information and its content is typically more believable because it combines video and audio content. The mix of audio and video allows television broadcasts to be used more creatively than other media formats and longer-format content is possible because people typically watch TV for extended periods of time. Some of the drawbacks of using television are that it limits the opportunity for community dialogue (except through pre-recorded interviews and events), it is expensive, and it has a limited reach in many countries, especially in low income settings. Similar to radio, there is a limited ability to tailor TV content to specific audiences or contexts, access to televisions varies a lot by country, geography and wealth, and your organisation may need to work with multiple television stations to achieve sufficient reach.

Here are some tips and considerations if using television as a delivery channel:

Many considerations for TV are similar to those of radio – it is worth conducting a mapping exercise to understand TV audiences and television show preferences. It is worth incorporating COVID-19 content into a range of formats from news and TV dramas, to reality TV shows and children’s animations. TV affords the opportunity to show audiences how to practice COVID-19 preventative behaviours in settings that mirror their own. For example, in Zambia John Snow Inc, developed a mini-series that depicts realistic scenarios of people applying COVID-19 preventative behaviours, despite the challenges this presents in their context. In Nigeria the government decided early on to share stories of COVID-19 cases to help convey that COVID-19 is real and can affect all Nigerians.

Want to know more about maximising different delivery channels for communicating about COVID-19?

Editor's note

Author: Anika Jain

Review: Katie Greenland, Lara Kontos and Kondwani Chidziwisano
Version date: 23.09.20

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