By Amin Kef Sesay
Twenty Journalists from various Media Houses in the country participated in a COVID-19 Media Hackathon which was organized by NaCOVERC, UNICEF, USAID and Breakthrough ACTION at the Atlantic Lumley Hotel in Freetown on the 5th March 2021 and the 6th March 2021.
The rationale behind organizing the two day event was to avail participants the opportunity to discuss challenges around risk communication and identify innovative ways of disseminating information and engaging audiences during health emergencies. That initiative formed part of the country’s #COVID-19 response efforts.
It has been realized lately that globally, populations are suffering from COVID-19 fatigue.
Research has shown that populations are tired of hearing, talking and thinking about the corona virus pandemic and want life to return to normal.
It is indeed true that in the country people have become bored of COVID-19 news and information and their willingness to listen to this information and comply with COVID-19 rules and regulations is reducing. As a matter of fact some are still in denial of the existence of the virus.
Such fatigue and care free attitude, in turn, are causing an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths, which ironically, will only serve to prolong the outbreak even further.
Also of truism, is that the country’s media industry is also suffering from fatigue. COVID-19 news and stories are broadcast and published with less frequency and media houses and journalists are struggling to find new angles and ways of engaging audiences on COVID-19.
As a result, the COVID-19 information that goes out is often either repetitive (repeating old messages which are often ignored by audiences) or sensationalist (focussing on Scandals and controversy because this gets people’s attention). And so the vicious cycle continues – people are bored of COVID-19 news and information and so do not read or listen to it, and because people don’t read or listen to it, media houses stop broadcasting and publishing it.
It is against such a backdrop that NACOVERC saw the need to collaborate with experienced minds in the media industry to innovate, and present solutions to the problem.
The COVID-19 Media Hackathon made it possible for colleagues in the media to work together, using technology and data to solve the challenges in risk communication.
Realizing that most media practitioners lack the capacity to report issues relating to the health sector the two day event was really significant.
Some of the issues that were discussed included COVID-19 pandemic and the Ebola Virus Preparedness , public perceptions around COVID-19 and the Ebola virus disease, the role of the media during health emergencies, responsible reporting on public health issues, identification of factors limiting journalists participation in public health responses.
Participants were also divided into groups with each group tackling different blocks to come up with strategies.
Final group presentations and discussion climaxed the two days’ event.