COVID-19 WhatsApp discussion: The stories behind COVID-19 programming

| December 6, 2021

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Over the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much of our daily lives, from the way we communicate with one another, to the way we do our jobs. Thankfully, throughout the pandemic, Farm Radio’s broadcasting partners have taken up the challenge and shared important information about COVID-19 through their programs. To get an idea of the programs they broadcast and the challenges they faced, we ran eighteen WhatsApp discussion groups, each of which lasted five days, with many of our broadcasting partners. The topics of discussion were inspired by this Broadcaster how-to guide on how stations can prevent the spread of COVID-19

Day 1 – An overview of COVID-19 programming

On the first day of the discussions, we quickly learned that nearly all Farm Radio broadcasting partners are creating some kind of programming about COVID-19. We heard from some partners that they created special daily or weekly segments that provided updates about COVID-19, such as current case numbers and where to get personal protective equipment like masks and hand sanitizer. Other partners incorporated COVID-19 discussions into their existing programming to discuss how the virus affects all facets of life. 

A popular strategy for many broadcasters was to create jingles and spots to promote the “golden rules” of COVID-19 (physical distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands, etc.). 

Lastly, our broadcasting partners said that at the start of the pandemic, the focus of their programming was on sharing information about the virus, but that now the focus is encouraging listeners to get vaccinated. 

For information on vaccination, check out Farm Radio’s FAQs on vaccines.

Day 2 – Expert and community engagement

On the second day, we learned that our broadcasting partners are engaging lots of different members of the community in their COVID-19 programming. They have interviewed health experts from the government, as well as staff from local hospitals, who educated listeners about COVID-19. Some broadcasters said they ran call-in or text-in programs with experts so listeners could ask questions directly. 

Other partners said they invited people who had recovered from COVID-19 and newly vaccinated people onto their programs to talk about their experiences. We also learned that some stations were inviting important community leaders like politicians, chiefs, and religious figures to raise awareness about COVID-19 and preventative measures. 

Unfortunately, a few partners mentioned having difficulty getting experts on air because of their busy schedules. However, many were still able to engage listeners by using strategies such as on-the-ground interviews, social media discussions, call-ins, and text messaging. 

Listen to this episode of the This is How I … podcast about recording audio via WhatsApp. This can help you with recording interviews outside the studio.

Day 3 – Women and COVID-19

On the third day, we wanted to hear how stations were sharing information about the unique ways that COVID-19 impacts women. The importance of women in the COVID-19 pandemic is summarized perfectly by a partner from Kenya, who said: “Given both their vulnerability and frontline roles during the pandemic, women must be at the centre of COVID-19 recovery and reconstruction.” 

Most partners agreed that women are impacted uniquely by COVID-19 because of their responsibilities as caretakers. In their programming, some partners interviewed women’s groups so that they could share their experiences during the pandemic. Other partners said that COVID-19 became the main talking point on their existing women’s programs or segments. However, a few partners shared that while they recognized how COVID-19 impacts women, they did not wish to create women-only programming because information about COVID-19 is necessary for everyone and they did not want men to feel excluded from the conversation.

Day 4 – Obstacles in creating programming

On the fourth day of discussions, we heard about some of the obstacles our broadcasting partners are facing in creating COVID-19 content. The biggest issue we heard about was listeners not believing in COVID-19, largely because of myths and misinformation. Many broadcasters explained that, for rural programs in particular, listeners did not initially want to hear about COVID-19 and believed that it was fake. 

For information on preventing the spread of misinformation or fake news, check out this Broadcaster how-to guide

Broadcasters also mentioned that mistrust of information from the government made it difficult to create credible programming about COVID-19. Other broadcasters noted challenges with translating content into local languages in regions when there are many languages. Lastly, some partners had difficulty finding individuals willing to share their experiences on air due to the stigma surrounding COVID-19. To respond to these difficulties, broadcasters suggested offering capacity-building workshops and providing additional funding. 

Day 5 – Resource usage

On the final day, we heard about all the different resources that Farm Radio broadcasting partners are using to access COVID-19 information. Many shared that they appreciated the resources from Farm Radio like Barza Wire, COVID-19 info packs and sharing knowledge with other partners in WhatsApp group chats. 

We also learned that our broadcasting partners are collaborating with organizations like World Vision and UNICEF for information. Some suggestions for future resources include: standardized spots/jingles, help with contacting experts, translation into local languages, additional funding, and capacity-building workshops. We take these suggestions to heart and will continue to find ways to support our partners’ needs.

With over 4,500 messages sent and more than 200 active participants in 18 groups, our broadcasting partners shared so much information with us! Thank you to all participating partners for sharing your stories and showing us the fantastic programming you’re creating to keep your communities safe from COVID-19! Stay tuned on your WhatsApp groups for more rich and engaging discussions.