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What role has Kenyan media played during Covid-19 outbreak?

The question of what role media played during Covid-19 outbreak can be best answered by looking at the activities during the fight against spread of the pandemic – continuous updates throughout the weeks, increase in multiple stories and ceaseless headlines. However, the constant barrage of new information and advice during daily or weekly briefing seems to be challenging and confusing for people when trying to follow such stories.

It is a month since Covid-19 outbreak was first reported in Kenya and what is remarkable is that a series of media campaigns have been observed across various media outlets in Kenya. This campaign in form of public service announcements (at times known as public service ads) has always been used in the medical or marketing fields to persuade the public to modify behaviour in order to reduce the spread of the disease. Covid-19 has received huge attention because of its impacts on all sectors but more importantly the mode of spread and hence it becomes vital to analyze how media presented the health campaigns.

We monitored appearance of public service announcements (PSAs) in 57 Kenyan media outlets (both radio stations and television) from March 14 to 29. During this period, a total of 7,464 salience of PSAs were observed with an average of 574 appearances daily. The news coverage of Covid-19 provides a good example of how an important health issue which may have been invisible to the public eye has been aggressively highlighted.

Figure 1 The distribution of public service announcements in the media on a daily basis

Almost every media house in Kenya took the initiative to run public health campaigns and whether such public service ads are successful can be seen through widespread adoption of the prevention measures. It was notable that this virus which appeared to be affecting everyone through human to human contact may have contributed to public awareness and knowledge on the fight of the spread of Covid-19.

The Ministry of Health through its daily press conferences increased visibility of the Covid-19. By April 2, the media had heightened its coverage and this is the date that those infected rose to 110 with 3 deaths caused by the virus.  Some emotion provoking messages such as falling ill, death, you or your family can contract the virus, as reported in the media are designed to scare people by describing the terrible things, which showed that anyone defying the guidelines would become a victim.

The rate at which Covid-19 appears in media demonstrates the role of media as a catalyst in promoting health at all levels. Ranging from washing hands to maintaining social distance, radio stations and televisions provided opportunity to health experts and victims who had recovered to increase the level of awareness on the dangers of the virus.

Although journalists can help place a specific health issue on the national or international agenda, tensions still exist between some government agencies or officials and journalists.

As a response in ensuring there is sustained flow of information on Covid-19, the Media Council of Kenya works closely with other organisations/agencies in ensuring there is conducive working environment for journalists by introducing a special pass for anyone working in the media sector, among other interventions.

In summary, the coverage of Covid-19 has demonstrated the powerful role Kenyan media can play in reporting public health issues. Kenya’s media is a necessary tool for any government to achieve development. Previous aggression by the state, observed in ordinary times against the media needs to be evaluated based on this performance.

It becomes essential for the government to support media. One of the persistent problems today is the spread of misinformation perpetuated by online media but the correct coverage helped counter this misinformation.

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