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By Daniel Lasuba - 7 Apr 2020

Opinion | The role of the media to keep South Sudanese informed about coronavirus

Media scholars described the media as the fourth estate after the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary arms of government. As the three arms of government ought to operate independently to ensure checks and balances, the media also ought to operate independently without any interference in principle in order to maximise its output to provide information services to its beneficiaries. Others refer to the media as the mirror or reflection of the society.

The role of the media traditionally is to provide information, education and entertainment to its target audience whether being readers or viewers depending on the media outlet. The roles mentioned above are the primary roles of each media house in any country is to basically ensure that the population are informed on current affairs issues or various matters that concerns them and affects their lives. And this information is packaged through different formats e.g. news articles or broadcasts, opinion articles, talk shows, interviews and public service announcements (PSA’s) among others.

Research has proved that the rate of media consumptions normally shoots up when there are crisis, natural catastrophes, conflicts and including pandemics like the outbreak of COVID-19; this is because people become hungry for accurate information, where media is considered to be one of the credible sources of information in democratic societies.

Therefore, South Sudan media should live to the responsibility of taking lead to inform and educate the people of South Sudan about COVID-19. The Managers of media house outlets should give more space to information about COVID-19 to educate about people about the dangers of this virus and how our citizens can protect themselves. Many South Sudanese are still naïve and ill-informed about the Coronavirus believing that our hot climate can’t be penetrated by COVID-19, or that the Coronavirus doesn’t infect black people. It’s upon the media to keep informing and updating our people about the number of African countries that has confirmed reported cases to correct this ill-informed mindset.

The media should use the Agenda-Setting Theory to ensure that Coronavirus become the central focus for the next two months to support the High Level Taskforce on COVID-19 Pandemic headed by H.E President Salva Kiir working together with the World Health Organization and National Ministry of Health to ensure that South Sudan remain COVID-19 free nation. The newspapers, radio stations and TV stations should provide spaces on their different outlets for experts to continue informing, educating and updating readers across the country and in the diaspora about the developments and what the High Level Taskforce, WHO and the Ministry are doing. What strategies are put in place in preparations for any eventualities in relation to Coronavirus.

The Media Authority and the Information Commission should live up to its mandate to ensure that media practitioners are given unhindered access to information with the sole purpose of informing the public to enhance collective understanding of the role all the stalk holders should play to combat this deadly virus from penetrating our boarders. By doing so the mainstream media in the country would be able to defuse all social media rumors and misinformation about the virus in the country. It is great that the High Level Taskforce acknowledge the media as an essential service provider, however it is important that the other stakeholders implementing the directives of the High Level Taskforce on COVID-19 cooperate with media personnel when they are conducting the duty to inform the public.

At such times where the COVID-19 became a matter of threat to the nation it would just be morally appropriate if media houses can take upon themselves as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the people of South Sudan not to charge Coronavirus related messages to be published or broadcast to the public by their media houses. Though I understand the financial challenges media houses face, this would at least be the industry’s fair contribution to this pandemic and our people.

The media should focus its efforts on behavioral and attitude change through writing articles, publishing and broadcasting contents to make the public understand the dangers of Coronavirus and embrace the preventive measures being emphasized by the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization. The media should ensure they give platform for experts to understand that all the measures and directives issued by the government and are being enforced by the security agencies are all for their own safety and aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. The media should focus its efforts through medical experts to explain to the public that for one to prevent him/herself from being infected is an individual responsibility before becoming a collective responsibility. And emphasise prevention messages on hand washing with soap every twenty minutes; avoid handshakes or hugging; avoid touching ones face, nose, eyes and mouth; covering ones mouth with a handkerchief when sneezing or coughing; keep social distancing and avoid crowds.

 I recommend that the High Level Taskforce on COVID-19, the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health should form a strong Communications team to be in charge of disseminating the messages about the virus by going to the radio stations on weekly basis to talk about the virus in different radio programs using local languages. These messages should be pre-recorded in all the sixty-four languages of South Sudan and distributed to all community radios across the country.

The Communication team should also draft short messages about the virus, symptoms and ways of preventions and all these messages should be recorded in all local languages for community radios to broadcast across the country to reach out the awareness efforts throughout the country.

I recommend all the partners working on the prevention efforts of COVID-19 to South Sudan to invest in the media by using all the languages to achieve a wider reach of the awareness message across the country.

Its high time the media industry unite and work together to take lead in providing awareness, information, and educate the people of South Sudan about Coronavirus and how people can prevent themselves as directed by the Ministry of Health, WHO and the High Level Taskforce on COVID-19. Its high time the Media Industry (Radio stations, newspapers and TV stations) work with the same spirit and together will keep South Sudanese informed about Coronavirus.

Daniel Lasuba is a Media and Communications Professional.

The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.