Radio Savoir FM fights lack of information and misinformation about COVID-19

| December 21, 2020

Download this story

When it came to informing their listeners about COVID-19, the team at Radio Savoir FM went straight to the source: COVID-19 survivors themselves.

Radio Savoir FM is located in Kati Circle, a region in Mali that surrounds Bamako, the capital city. The station and its team of 16 staff—hosts, journalists, and reporters—is a talk radio station.

Ousmane Diarra is a host, and the chief of staff for Savoir FM.

He says: “In our programs, we give voice to ordinary citizens (through vox pops) and to different stakeholders (through reporting), all backed up and clarified by experts (through interviews).”

Savoir FM is one of more than 100 stations that received funding from Farm Radio International’s COVID-19 Support Fund.

The station made an effort to raise awareness about COVID-19 in the communities it covers, but this was not an easy task. Many listeners didn’t know COVID-19 existed, while others thought that it was a government conspiracy, perhaps designed to get money from international organizations.

Mr. Diarra says, “Truly, it was very difficult to contend with certain people in order to raise awareness, because many weren’t worried at all.”

While the government mainly looked to state media or television to inform people about the pandemic, Mr. Diarra says many don’t trust those outlets, suspecting them of not being impartial.

He adds: “This is why the public was not well-informed, and couldn’t believe, without being informed by local media that they trust, the damage that could be caused by this pandemic.”

The first thing the station did was augment the personal protection equipment the station was using by purchasing extra sanitary kits: masks, soap, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Thanks to the extra equipment, Savoir FM was able to send journalists out of the station to gauge public opinion, using a tried and true trick of the journalism trade, “vox pops,” to collect the opinions, beliefs, and local understanding of the pandemic. For vox pops, journalists ask people they meet on the street questions to gauge public sentiment on an issue.

While the station had been broadcasting daily reports about the pandemic during their morning show using information from the Ministry of Health and Social Development, extra funding from FRI allowed them to really dig into the issue. They produced interactive programs to raise awareness about COVID-19, about the situation in Mali, about how to prevent it, and how to fight the pandemic at home.

These programs built on the daily ministry reports. The station talked to medical experts about the pandemic, who provided “content rich in details that contributed a lot to awareness.” Radio Savoir FM also made a point of speaking with another essential group of individuals: survivors of COVID-19 and the relatives of those afflicted.

Mr. Diallo says reporters respected COVID-19 safety precautions to the highest degree when speaking to survivors of COVID-19, but the work wasn’t easy.

He says, “In reality, [while] doing this work, fear was in the hearts of all. But this noble profession requires us to do this to protect the population.”

Still, these interviews were key. Mr. Diallo says they not only raised awareness, but made the public understand precisely the impact the disease could have.

He adds: “These reports, and the interviews of the experts, were our only forces to motivate the average person on the real existence of COVID-19 and to push them to respect the protective measures advised by our health authorities, so they were important if not necessary for the success of our mission.”

The station continues to do this important work, combating misinformation, and trying to reinforce COVID-19 precautions, all to keep their listeners aware and safe.

As Mr. Diallo says, radio is an important tool to accomplish this. “Radio is the medium of instant news. The public can listen to it everywhere: at home, in the street, in the office, in the fields, in the car, on the road, with a simple transistor and batteries.”

Radio Savoir FM was one of more than 100 stations to receive Farm Radio COVID-19 Support Funds. Read more Spotlight stories to learn about other recipients of these funds.