Fighting myths with truth
Karonga journalists trained on countering Covid-19 misinformation
As Malawi battles to keep Covid-19 at bay, the country's community radio stations play a significant role in the fight against the virus.
Dozens of community radio personalities, many of whom are volunteer producers or presenters, have been taking to the airwaves in all community radio stations across the country since April 2020 to help raise awareness on Covid-19 and how to prevent its spread.
During a crisis such as Covid-19, community radio can play a significant role in these communities as the type of media nearest to the community.
It can reach and educate communities in local languages as journalists and community volunteers live in and know the communities better. This advantage makes a community radio station a lifeline for knowledge and connectivity to these communities.
Community radio producers and on-air personalities have been instrumental in developing messages in the local languages that community members speak in the district.
With funding from GAVI – The Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Health to localize messaging on Covid-19 and how communities can protect themselves from the virus.
UNICEF has also provided funding and technical support to community radio stations to develop and broadcast these key messages.
UNICEF's vaccine management consultant Lokesh Sharma explains that one of the best ways to spread health promotion messages is through community radio.
"The reach of community radios extends across the country's major highways. It has been proven that misinformation or falsehoods can negatively affect any public health initiative. Covid-19 immunisation perceptions are periodically assessed by UNICEF's communication staff," he says.
He explains that in light of the widespread use of radio in everyday life, the Covid-19 vaccine fallacies and misinformation were sought through this medium, ensuring that more than 34 radio journalists received Covid-19 immunization training from UNICEF.
Ten radio journalists from Tuntufye FM Radio and Radio Dinosaur in Karonga district in northern Malawi were trained under the initiative.
At Tuntufye FM Radio, we spoke with Wezi Mwangonde and Winkly Mwaulambo, who both attended the training.
Mwangonde is a radio journalist who presents the Covid-19 Special programme on Sundays.
She says the training helped her understand the use of appropriate language when addressing Covid-19 issues on air.
"As a journalist, when you talk about issues that you are not very conversant with, it confuses your listener and, in the case of Covid-19 literary, it does very little to curb the pandemic," she says.
She further notes that the training also helped her with presentation and messaging, which are essential in communicating Covid-19 messages.
On his part, Mwaulambo, who is a producer, reporter, and presenter at the station, says the training was vital in helping him understand the broader concept of fighting myths associated with Covid-19 vaccination.
"It made me understand how to differentiate what is a myth, misinformation, and disinformation because many people that we broadcast to had beliefs that prevented them from getting vaccinated.
"But since we attended this training, we gained the knowledge that enables us with the skills to counter these beliefs. The training has given me the confidence to speak with authority because I am now well equipped with information. When I meet people in the communities, they tell me that I changed their minds on vaccines through my presentations," he says.
Karonga District Information Officer Andrew Mkonda notes that it is crucial to train journalists and volunteers of community radio stations as they are front-liners in providing lifesaving information on Covid-19.
"For people in the rural areas, the radio became a friend they could listen to any time during the lockdown. People can understand messages related to Covid-19 easily as they are broadcast frequently in the local language and in different forms. Radio has become a reliable source of information," he says.