Hannah Tellier | June 8, 2020
Paul-Miki Roamba, aged 40, is managing editor at radio Ouaga FM in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Ouaga FM is a community radio station that serves listeners on a wide variety of topics, including agriculture and the environment. But since mid-March, the team at Ouaga FM is working towards two new goals: to protect each journalist and to inform listeners about COVID-19.
Before the emergence of COVID-19, Ouaga FM had many programs that featured discussion panels of four to five people. Now that distancing measures prohibit having this many people in the studio at one time, Ouaga FM has only one program in the evening, which is dedicated to a discussion of COVID-19 with a health expert.
The program, called COVID info plus, allows listeners to call in with questions. Every Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 10:30 p.m., the program invites a different health expert to address the theme for the week. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the guest expert is fluent in French. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, specialists speak Mooré, Dioula, and Fulfulde, respectively.
Over the past few weeks, one program has talked about disinfecting homes and public places that will soon be reopened to the public. Another discussed appropriate techniques for hand washing with soap and water and disinfection with hydroalcoholic gel. A third discussed types of face masks and how to wear them safely. After ten minutes of information on these topics, the line is open to questions from listeners.
“When people listen to the radio today in Burkina Faso, they need not only to listen, but also to participate,” says Mr. Roamba.
When questions go beyond the scope of a health expert, Ouaga FM invites local authorities to appear on the program. These are people who can more easily answer questions about government actions and their impact on daily life. For example, a few episodes have featured the mayor of the region or government ministers.
Mr. Roamba says the goal is to always give practical and accurate information to listeners in the languages they speak. But it’s not always easy to find experts on technical subjects who speak a local language.
“The first challenge is to identify the person we are going to interview,” says Mr. Roamba.” Because we don’t necessarily have contacts, we use Facebook a lot to find the profile of someone we might be interested in.”
When they identify an interesting profile, reporters send them a message in order to better understand their qualifications. If the expert has sufficient knowledge of the subject and speaks a local language, reporters ask for their WhatsApp number and invite them to appear on the program.
For many of the station’s programs, Ouaga FM journalists conduct interviews via WhatsApp whenever possible, often using audio messages.
When the experts send their responses via WhatsApp, the journalists transfer the audio files to a computer where they are converted to a MP3 file. These can be imported into editing software and then broadcast directly as part of a program.
At the office, World Health Organization guidelines are strictly followed. During programs where there are no guests, the broadcaster is alone in the studio. There aren’t even technicians, says Mr. Roamba.
“All the journalists have been trained to be technicians too,” he says. “At Radio Ouaga FM, the one who broadcasts the news is the same one who reads the news. The broadcaster is his own technician.”
To ensure that program content is always relevant for the surrounding community, Ouaga FM regularly consults a committee of listeners. Now that meetings are prohibited, the committee continues its discussion in a WhatsApp group with health experts, local authorities, and other resource people.
Thanks to radio, Mr. Roamba has already seen behaviour change in Ouagadougou. Handwashing after entering public places has become a common practice, and many people greet each other without shaking hands. These are victories that Mr. Roamba credits to the journalists’ hard work.
“With COVID-19, we have realized that … people have consumed a lot of information and are now very aware. You can see that the message is getting through,” he said.
“It’s the communication work done by the media that has produced the results we see on the ground.”