|© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Njoku|
|Nigerian radio producers talk to a mother about avian influenza in Benin City, Edo State.|
By MacArthur Hill
BENIN, Nigeria, 12 March 2007 – Local radio has become the latest weapon in the battle against the spread of avian influenza in Nigeria.
Over the past year, the disease has reached 23 of Nigeria’s 36 states, including the federal capital of Abuja. In January, the country reported its first human fatality when a 22-year-old woman died from the virus in Lagos.
Nigeria’s scientists are worried that the weak monitoring system could be hiding far worse statistics. They have suggested that public knowledge about the disease can be improved through dedicated programming on local radio stations.
“Certainly, avian influenza is an emergency in Nigeria and the media must take up the challenge aggressively,” says Lola Sofoluwe of Gateway Radio in Ogun State. Ms. Sofoluwe stressed the need for total commitment and dedication, and emphasized that “to do otherwise is to fail in our social responsibility, not only to our communities but to our own families.”
Radio reaches a high percentage of the population in Nigeria, with people tuning in throughout the day. The challenge for radio producers is to deliver the required information through motivational and interactive programmes on avian influenza while maintaining audience interest.
UNICEF has partnered with the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications and the BBC World Service Trust to help radio producers meet this obligation. Fifty five local radio producers from all 36 states have already attended two workshops on interactive radio planning and production techniques.
The workshops aimed to strengthen producers’ skills in making interactive programmes that provide accurate, consistent and timely information, while also respecting the rights of the audience to express their views and get answers and explanations from the authorities. At the same time, the workshops highlighted the critical role of the media in providing urgently needed public information about avian influenza.
A voice for communities
Besides attending the workshops, producers took part in field trips to meet and interview poultry farmers, market sellers, transporters and children about their knowledge and perspectives on avian influenza.
The trips helped participants discover the relatively high level of bird flu awareness but very low level of risk perception among local communities.
“People have lots of questions and ideas on how to control bird flu in Nigeria,” explains Jenewari Utomi, producer and desk officer at Rivers Radio. “Giving them a voice so that they understand and appreciate the risk is showing respect for them,” she adds, “and it is also the key to good radio.”
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