UNESCO produces report on media’s coverage of Covid-19 in SADC countries

The UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa has published a report on “Trends in the in the media’s coverage of COVID-19 in SADC”. Produced in partnership with the Media Monitors with support from the European Union, the report focusses on COVID-19 content monitoring in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The report shows the main gaps in professional reportage of the pandemic mainly lack of inclusivity and diversity in sourcing for Covid-19 information. The report also shows that voices of women, youth, and the elderly were marginalised in news coverage. Women made up just 22% of voices while the youth and the elderly made up just 15% of the voices in all countries. This meant that perspectives on Covid-19 were mainly from men, official figures and urban communities.

Part of the media’s mandate is to bridge the information gap that exists between rural and urban communities. However, the report shows that there were few stories on Covid-19 in rural areas in the region, as just an average of 5% of stories covered rural areas as compared to 22% of stories that covered urban communities.

To uphold freedom of speech and expression all voices should be heard regardless of someone’s social background. The report reflected that official voices dominated as sources of news on the pandemic as they accounted for 49% of all voices that were quoted, indicating the media’s reliance on government officials for Covid-19 news. Official voices were quoted more than other groups that included medical experts outside government, civil society voices and citizens, among others.

The overall trends in the report showed that in three categories of news on Covid-19, that is preparedness, response and human interest, most media in southern African countries focused on human-interest stories, particularly on the progression of the pandemic. Forty one percent (41%) of all stories looked at the progression of the pandemic in statistical terms, with a focus on the infection rate, mortality, recovery rates, etc. The lowest number of stories covered the state of preparedness by the different governments and four percent of all stories focused on Covid-19 related infrastructure.

UNESCO continues to promote inclusivity and diversity hence the report calls upon media houses to put in place and enforce policies that promote inclusion and diversity, while fighting stigma and discrimination in their coverage to ensure fair and balanced representation of various social groups and geographical areas.

The report also appeals to governments in the region to conduct comprehensive reviews of access to information in the remote parts of their countries before licensing more news outlets and setting up information centres targeting these communities.
UNESCO will continue its work to strengthen the media’s capacity to report on disasters and emergencies and ensure media coverage is balanced and inclusive of all groups in society.


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