The world commemorates World Press Freedom Day on 3 May every year, a day dedicated to raising awareness on the importance of freedom of the press (or the media). If there was ever time in modern day during which we all relied almost entirely on the press (or media), that time would be now.
I would like to make a distinction between news media, meaning media that delivers news to the general public as opposed to organisational or corporate websites and social media pages. The focus of this article is on news media.
With so much anxiety and free time on our hands, we are glued to our televisions, radios, smart phones or other sources of news to know what the new developments are with regard to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
A day goes by without news on Covid-19, many of us would panic. We all want to know if there are any new Covid-19 cases. We want to know how many people have recovered. Any new symptoms? Am I safe? How will this affect me? And so forth.
Most of us get this news either from conventional news sources such as television, radio and newspapers or from new media such as social media and websites.
Covid-19 has set a significant dependence on the media for reliable information dissemination and public education. For governments, organisations and other information providers, the media has become an essential partner in information dissemination. They have recognised the media as a critical mass communication tool and its supreme ability to transmit messages to a large audience.
In Namibia, the amended State of Emergency – Covid-19 Regulations of 17 April 2020 recognised media services as critical. This means that all media outlets were allowed to operate during the period of lockdown, obviously within the limits of the Regulations. In fact, the minister of Health and Social Services has issued a directive for his ministry to “intensify public awareness messages and campaigns [on Covid-19] using all media avenues and platforms to reach every community member in all the regions.”
The ministries of information and health have also established a Covid-19 Communication Centre where daily updates and discussions are broadcasted live. This is all to ensure we receive timely and factual information on Covid-19, first-hand.
For years, the media had been considered an enemy of progress whose sole purpose is to discredit those in power, act as a watchdog and dwell on conflict in order to sell papers. Arguably, scandalous news does have a large audience and, therefore, sells newspapers like hotcakes. As the saying goes “bad news travels fast.”
This is why the media also has a responsibility to ensure they sell unbiased, factual news by cross-checking their sources. However, that is a topic for another day. The purpose of this article is amplify the symbiotic role of the media.
While Namibia maintains its 23rd press freedom ranking according to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, many government entities, organisations and corporates still view the media as a tool to promote their agendas, mostly for a good cause and sometimes for their self-interest.
Post-Covid-19, institutions need to consider the media as just more than a propaganda or publicity tool and continue acknowledging it as a fundamental partner in providing information which communities need to engage in logical dialogue and make smart decisions.
Both the information providers and the media are dependent on one another. There is no case of “us against them.” I am certain the media expects to be recognised as a catalyst for information dissemination and advocacy or as “the fourth estate”, just as institutions expect the media to present information fairly, even-handedly and in a non-provocative way.
After all, without media support, a media release is just as good as your social media pages or website, i.e. limited coverage. Due to their wide coverage, in-depth analysis of information and popularity, news media especially ensures your information reaches even those you would otherwise not reach with social media or the world wide web.
Another topic for another day is the pressing need for governments to increase investments in information and communication technology infrastructure which would allow extended internet coverage and computer literacy, in addition to fostering media partnerships. You can never have enough information coverage as the right to information is a fundamental right as per the United Nation’s Declaration of Human
*Tauno Iileka is a Public Relations practitioner employed by the Omaheke Regional Council. The views expressed in this article are entirely his. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org