January 19, 2021

COVID-19: The Impact and Role of Mass Media During the Pandemic

Today Coronavirus has already spread to most parts of the world. The world is facing a very hard time fighting the coronavirus. This virus needs to be stopped, but the only way to do it is by spreading awareness to the people to control its spread. Here is the part where mass media come in. Mass media are the tool that can be used to reach to mass audience. Mass media have got an important position on the battlefield. We cannot dream of winning this battle without the role of mass media.

Coronavirus: Challenging Human Survival

COVID-19 is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).[1] The first case of this virus was reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China and then it spread to most parts of the world and resulted in an ongoing pandemic. As of 6 June 2020, there are total 6,866,121 reported cases of coronavirus around 213 countries and territories.[2] As of now, 3,362,308 coronavirus patients have recovered and around 398,535 patients lost the battle with coronavirus.[3]

Common symptoms of this virus are cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue and loss of smell and taste. While in the majority of cases it is seen that patients have mild symptoms and they recover, but in some cases, patients become serious and develop breathing difficulty.[4]

The person affected with the COVID-19 spreads it to another person by small droplets from the nose or the mouth, which are generally released by a person when he/she coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets are usually heavy and that is why it does not carry on to far places in the air. People need to be at a minimum distance of 1 meter from the affected person.[5] But recently the study done by MIT researcher Lydia Bourouiba says that exhalations result in the formation of gaseous clouds that can travel up to 8.2 meters.[6] These droplets that carry the virus can also settle on other objects or surfaces such as tables, handrails and doorknobs. A person can also get infected by touching these objects and surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

Today we don’t have any vaccine or medicine for COVID-19 as this is a newly discovered virus and that’s what makes it more dangerous. For now, there are only two remedies to this current problem – social distancing and regularly washing your hands with soap and water.

Mass Media: The Corona Warrior

The word ‘media’ is derived from the term medium, which means carrier. It is the carrier of information that carries the information to a large number of people.[7] It is media which help people to be updated about the things going in the world. It is a very powerful and useful instrument in battling with the pandemic of COVID-19. It when properly used can be very useful in the dissemination of information. Media is considered to be the fourth pillar of the state, especially in a democratic country like India.[8]

Media needs to act as a link between government and people and to continually provide feedback at both the national and regional levels. To maintain their credibility, they need to ensure that the information provided by them is accurate. They need to act as a platform through which the spread of global pandemic can be controlled.

The media have played the great role of disseminating the information to a large part of people and now they need to connect and spread information to the micro level. They are socially obliged to the lower-class people and need to improve social cohesion to fight with this pandemic.

The people need to be informed about the steps being taken by the government or health official to ensure health checkups and to notify them about the guidelines and protocols they need to follow to restrict the virus from spreading. People should be provided with accurate information, but it is to be keep in mind that this information is to be presented in a way that they don’t suffer from panic. It is very crucial to keep the fighting spirit of the people high.

Media should also spread essential information about what are the symptoms of COVID-19, how to follow the home isolation procedure, whom to contact to get tested and where are the testing centers. Information about the availability of essential items and the location from where they can collect the essentials should be shared.

With the duty to provide information they have a great responsibility to provide accurate information to the public. Ed Wasserman, dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, said that there are both good and bad elements of the news that has been covered during the pandemic, and the public’s trust in the media is at stake.[9] This story has many dimensions and the interest in the story and consequence of the way it is presented is massive. Media needs to do in-depth coverage instead of focusing on breaking news. Media personals should build relations with great researchers to maintain accurate reporting.

As social distancing is the only solution to curb the spread of coronavirus, everyone in the infected place is staying at home to follow social distancing and are disconnected from the people outside. Here they rely on media to remain connected to the world. Without the media, the person would be isolated from the society, not only from the world but the total formation of creditable world.[10]

Social media also creates a platform to fight against COVID-19. It serves as a source of information for many individuals. Many great personalities, organisation and businesses used it to spread awareness. It also helps in bringing positivity at the dismal time. It also serves as a platform to collect funds. It has been proved to be a boon for students and businessmen to help them carry out their duty.

Disinfodemic: Salt on The Wound

False information or fake news is spreading more rapidly than the virus in all over the world and the commentators are now referring this misinformation related to COVID-19 pandemic as disinfodemic.[11] This is putting the lives of people at risk as people with COVID-19 symptoms are experimenting themselves with unproven remedies. Guy Berger, the Director for Policies and Strategies regarding Communication and Information at UNESCO stated that there is no area left that is untouched by fake news and many important personalities and government are itself involved in spreading fake news.[12]

There are various fake news that creates various misconceptions about the spread of the virus. A post went viral that stated vegetarians are immune to this virus, but Supriya Bezbaruah, the WHO’s India representative told that these claims are fake.[13]

Every misinformation possesses danger for thousands. Various misinformation regarding government policies and guidelines went viral which resulted in chaos among a large group of people. About a huge gathering of migrant workers at Bandra Station, Maharashtra Cyber Cell discovered that misinformation regarding the running of trains was circulated.[14] That huge gathering might have resulted in the spread of the virus among them.

This can be stopped only when everyone starts to ensure whether the news is true or false and report false news instead of forwarding it to another person. News media should also identify trending fake news on social media and should show the truth of these statements in their programs.

Patience: The Ultimate Weapon

Night cannot be never-ending. These are the hard times when the survival of humanity is at stake. We need to be patient and have to continuously fight until we achieve the victory. At the frontline are the corona warriors fighting tirelessly. Mass media being one of the corona warriors are doing its best it can, to beat the virus and take humanity back to its sunny days.

[1] Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19), MAYO CLINIC (JUNE 3 2020, 13:06), https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/symptoms-causes/syc-20479963.

[2] COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, WORLDOMETER (JUNE 6 2020, 13:14), https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/.

[3] Id.

[4] Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19), World Health Organization (JUNE 3 2020, 14:25), https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses.

[5] Id.

[6] Jordan Culver, 2 meters enough for social distancing? MIT researcher says droplets carrying coronavirus can travel up to 8 meters, Medical Xpress (JUNE 3 2020, 15:21), https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-04-meters-social-distancing-mit-droplets.html

[7] JAYASREE ROY, Role of media in our society, GLOBAL ETHICS NETWORK (JUNE 4 2020, 16:48), https://www.globalethicsnetwork.org/profiles/blogs/role-of-media-in-our-society

[8] Radhakrishnan B, Media-the fourth pillar of the society, N.F.C.H, 1 (2012)

[9] Ivan Natividad, COVID-19 and the media: The role of journalism in a global pandemic, Berkeley News (JUNE 4 2020, 14:17), https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/05/06/covid-19-and-the-media-the-role-of-journalism-in-a-global-pandemic/

[10] Vol. 01, Pradeep Kumar Dwivedi, Ingita Pandey, Role of Media in Social Awareness, International Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences (2013).

[11] During this coronavirus pandemic, ‘fake news’ is putting lives at risk: UNESCO, UN News (JUNE 4 2020, 12:05), https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061592.

[12] Id.

[13] False: No Vegetarian Has Contracted COVID-19 According To WHO Report, Boom (JUNE 5 2020, 12:23), https://www.boomlive.in/world/false-no-vegetarian-has-contracted-covid-19-according-to-who-report-8010.

[14] Bandra incident: Maharashtra cyber cell zeroes in on 30 persons for spreading fake news, India Tv (JUNE 5 2020, 12:56), https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/bandra-incident-maharashtra-cyber-cell-zeroes-in-on-30-persons-for-spreading-fake-news-608031.

Author Details: Abhishek Kumar Dev (CNLU)

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