Rumours, myths, and misinformation about wearing face masks are major challenges to compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures. On September 23, 2020, Farm Radio International addressed this issue directly by holding a media dialogue titled, Rumours and Concerns about Face Masks.
In collaboration with the Risk Communication and Community Engagement group(RCCE), the dialogue brought together speakers and contributions from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana. Attendees included journalists and members of the media from East and West Africa.
Addressing the participants, Gaoussou Nabaloum, the collective services coordinator of CREC (Communication sur les Risques et Engagement Communautaire) said, “As journalists, you are truly considered a key partner in the fight against COVID-19.”
The dialogue focused on rumours, myths, and false beliefs about face masks, how radio broadcasters can address these issues, and the resources provided by Farm Radio to support them. For an hour and a half, the participants explored: What are the rumours that prevent the use of face masks in Ghana and Nigeria? And how can the media empower people everywhere to adopt safe mask-wearing practices?
In Nigeria, as elsewhere, there is still a lot of disbelief about the existence of the coronavirus. Many people do not have enough information about COVID-19 or are exposed to misinformation on social media.
One myth circulating on social media in Nigeria is that the virus cannot survive in tropical climates. Other myths falsely say that the virus is gone for good. And one other false belief among many is that certain foods can prevent or treat COVID-19.
Radio stations in Nigeria are countering these rumours by verifying the facts with the relevant authorities. Several stations discuss these rumours live on air as part of their interactive programs. In this way, an interactive episode becomes an opportunity to increase the trust between medical experts and listeners. Another approach is to use vox pops. These short segments share the positive experiences of people wearing face masks to demonstrate that myths about negative side effects are not true.
In Ghana, there are still many rumours about COVID-19. One maintains that Africans are immune to COVID-19. Another says that only the elderly are affected by COVID-19, whereas, in truth, all kinds of people are susceptible.
But combating this misinformation is difficult in Ghana. Among the many challenges related to COVID-19, many stations have had to lay off employees due to reduced revenues from advertising. This lack of funding also means that many stations are struggling to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE).
This makes it difficult to keep resource people in the studio for interactive programs. Radio stations need to find creative ways to answer listeners’ questions about COVID-19 quickly and accurately.
Jacques Vagheni is the coordinator of the Collectif des radios et télévisions communautaires du Nord-Kivu (CORACON) in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a speaker at the webinar. He says he was prompted to find out more about rumours when he noticed that many people refused to wear masks in public.
In the DRC, Mr. Vagheni says that rumours about wearing masks come from cultural factors. He says many people are uncomfortable with masks because of security risks with historical precedents.
To combat myths and rumours, Mr. Vagheni says that CORACON has set up channels to collect the most recent rumours in order to discuss them on air.
He says: “We work with journalists on a regular basis to see how we can transform these rumours into a radio format and try to give the right answers, including asking questions to specialists.”
The webinar was recorded in French. To watch the webinar, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psMAZ1aGtyI&feature=youtu.be