We all know about COVID-19 Pandemic because of the media. That is, if there was no coverage about COVID-19, if all governments ensured no information was made available to the public about the virus, then we can be certain we all could have gone on with our lives as if nothing was happening – until the global health system broke down!
Actually, one can argue that the reason COVID-19 became a global pandemic is because at its onset, the Chinese government did all it could to censor the media. Whereas the mainstream media was not saying anything about a transmittable flu like disease that had had hundreds hospitalized in Wuhan, social media posts by concerned citizens in China that were questioning about the existence of such a disease were being deleted almost immediately they were posted. The deletion was so rampart until it reached a point the Chinese decided to start using ancient Chinese language and Morse code to pass information about the novel virus that would later be named SARS-COV-2.
If however the government of China immediately acknowledged the existence of the virus and took steps in disseminating information about it, encouraged and provided this relevant information to the mainstream media, and at the same time took precautionary measures at the onset of the disease e.g. enforcing total lockdown in parts of Wuhan that had had the coronavirus cases reported, then it is very unlikely the disease could have found its way out of China.
It is not just in China that interfering with media freedom to properly disseminate information regarding the existence and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented acceleration of the spread of the virus. In the US where the first official case was reported back in January 2020, President Donald Trump was on the forefront calling COVID-19 “just a flu”, and refusing to put in place travel and other measures that could have helped limit the impact of the virus in the United States. When the media tried to heap pressure on the President, the best he did was to call them Fake News. His lacklustre treatment of the pandemic alongside castigating the media as Fake News played a great role in helping the US become the most affected country globally.
It should therefore be clear how important the media could have been, and still is, in the management of COVID-19 Pandemic. That is, when it comes to phenomena like natural disasters and pandemics, the media cannot afford to be biased, neither should authorities exert their influence on the media by either forcing it to broadcast state propaganda, or denying it the freedom to pass relevant and timely information.
In as much as the media did not fully help manage the spread of COVID-19 at its onset, we must acknowledge how the media has come to help manage COVID-19 Pandemic in several ways. As mentioned in the introduction, unless you are a scientist or health worker directly handling SARS-COV-2, everything we have come to know about COVID-19 Pandemic has reached us through the media, be it TV, Radio, Newspapers, online publications like this one, or Social Media.
The media coverage of COVID-19 Pandemic has largely been on point. In every country when the pandemic was first reported, the pandemic became the top news item in every media outlet. Reports on number of cases, the areas affected, and governments’ directives on how people should behave were front page news for days and weeks. In Kenya for instance it took almost 6 months for COVID-19 news to be relegated to other news.
The focus on COVID-19 meant that every citizen talked about nothing but the pandemic, with each person either supporting or criticizing government’s action. The focus on the pandemic ensured that almost every human being on earth that is capable of communication, no matter how young they are new, know about COVID-19 pandemic. For example, a kid that can hardly speak was posted on a social update as crying “corona” after her mother sneezed.
Then the media has also helped in fact checking and setting records straight over the spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories. For example, when citizens in select countries in Europe including the UK went about setting on fire telecommunication towers, the media was quick to respond to the violence by not only condemning the arsons, but also clarifying and fact checking against the conspiracy theories. The action by the media helped put a stop to the arsons in the UK and elsewhere.
Right now we are at the stage where the COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, and already there are a number of people who are questioning whether the vaccines are actually meant to immunize people against the corona disease. To help allay the fears against the vaccines the media has already taken upon itself to educate the population on the efficacy, effectiveness, safety and the need for everyone to get vaccinated.
Even as mainstream media do everything within their powers to help educate the public over COVID-19 pandemic, it can’t go unmentioned that some section of the media has played a great role in allowing the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories about the disease, and the most affected media outlets are the blogging platforms and social media. Although Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants have taken it upon themselves to ensure only true and verified information related to the COVID-19 pandemic reach the public, that has not stopped conspiracy theorists from using the same platforms (YouTube and Facebook being the key culprits) to mislead many learned and unlearned members of the public. As of this publication, there are a number of schooled adults who get their information from YouTube and Facebook who do not engage in the preventive measures as outlined by health officials to help put a stop to the spread of the COVID-19.
As COVID-19 Pandemic continues to take a toll on nations globally, it is paramount for the media to remain in high alert, and not relent in their continued coverage of the pandemic. The pandemic should also prepare them to provide more objective coverage of similar phenomena that are likely to happen from time to time.