EVALUATION OF THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN PREVENTING THE SPREAD OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC IN NIGERIA
Background to the study
Media and society are closely related to each other. The extensive impact of media on society can easily be seen these days. Media reflects our society, how it works and what it constitutes. With the advancement in technological area, our society has also observed the expansion in the thoughts and ideas of people. Every single invention starting from the printing press to the latest smartphones our society has accepted it. Earlier people used to communicate things with the help of sketch and print forms but as time passes the medium became more advanced. Today people are just a click away from any and every information that is available on the internet. There are various forms of media that help to inform, educate and entertain our society. Media can be in print form that is through newspapers, books, magazines etc. Media includes an electronic form for spreading information which is one of the most used media of mass communication. With the help of radio and TV, listeners and viewers not only get updated but it also creates an understanding of current happenings. Radio being an audio medium helps in disseminating information to every nook and corner of our country. Radio has also played a vital role in creating a platform for imagination. The reach of this audio medium is not only limited to urban areas but it has covered a wide range even to the remote areas of our country. The people living in rural parts of the country are getting more benefits from the audio medium of mass communication. The programs on radio cater the interest of rural section which constitutes small-scale industries, farming, forestry etc.
Although the first reported case of Corona Virus 2019 was in December, 2019 with very little information passed concerning the outbreak that killed a total of 2000 people in China by Febrary 21, 2020 and On March 23 2020, Italy reported 602 new deaths, bringing the total to 6,077. There were other outbreaks of Corona Virus occurring as a result of different strains SARS-CoV in 2003, HCoV NL63 in 2004, HKU1 in 2005, MERS-CoV in 2012.
The most protracted and complicated Pandemic of Corona Virus Disease (COVID) to date and the first globally started with 40 cases in Wuhan, China on December 2019 and this majorly and rapidly spread to other European countries such as Italy and Spain which recorded the largest amounts of deaths per day
In Nigeria, the first known case of Corona Virus came from an Italian immigrant who was already exposed in Italy. He arrived Nigeria on 22nd February 2020, The Italian, who is a consultant with Lafarge, reportedly spent the night at an undisclosed hotel near Lagos airport and moved to the company’s facility in Ewekoro, Ogun state, the next morning. He was said to have spent the night at Lafarge’s facility when he fell sick and was taken to the company’s medical Centre where preliminary diagnosis began. After testing positive for the disease, he was subsequently quarantined at the Infectious Disease Centre in Yaba, Lagos state.
The symptoms of the disease include fever (greater than 38.6°C), severe headache, weakness, diarrhea (rare cases), difficulty breathing (severe cases), lack of appetite, cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, difficulty swallowing, impaired kidney, liver and Lung infection
Occasionally the country’s airwaves are greeted with the sad news of traditionally and culturally unfamiliar news of suicide. Whenever these odd stories greet our news headlines the country’s cyberspace (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) are a-washed with sober feelings of utter shock, disappointment and despondency and pity. The country is seen coming together for once and rising above political sentiments to sympathizing with the victims of these despicable acts. The reactions are not surprising as the acts of suicide are something that is yet quite uncharacteristically familiar with the Nigerian/African culture that holds life as a premium value that is divine (Alake, 2018).
The news reportage of the cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria and its possible attendant cause; death, Ill-health, Socio-economic paralysis, anxiety and fear (which could be caused by many Nigerian unique factors) has been severally reported with different truth variants and phases which begs the question of the truth of the fact. Research on this issue has shown profoundly that there is a direct and indirect correlation between the media reportage of COVID-19
According to McQuail (1979) when looking at influence of mass media ones focus should rather be on comparing media reality and social reality in certain situations since the diatribe of influences stream from source of media content, consumers of media contents to shape of media contents. For example, according to Sampei and Aoyagi-Usui (2009) increased awareness and concern of climate change amongst the populace was as result of increased media coverage of global warming from January 1998 to July 2007.
A sample of the four major newspapers sampled showed that the stories on Corona Virus ranged from current information as it pertains to Nigeria with follow up on the occurrences in West Africa as well as globally made the rounds in the stories reported. A new dimension to the Corona Virus story came from the belief by people that were told to hot lemon so as to prevent the corona virus infection also was reported in the newspapers .The intervention of the government as well as media helped in curbing the spread of this false rumours on the Corona virus cases. The early reports on Corona virus were on closure of schools, large social and religious gatherings and late resumption of schools due to the Corona virus outbreak nationwide until some necessary measures were put in place to adequately ensure that the outbreak does not spread in schools as well as other mass gathering in the nation. The aim of the study was to assess the role of media in the Corona virus reportage and its implication in creating awareness and stopping the spread amongst the populace.
Statement of the problem
Evidence shows that an outbreak of Corona virus disease recently occurred in Nigeria, involving many states and fatalities. The mass media can play a positive role in combating the corona virus pandemic and its attendant fatality in Nigeria. The mass media encompasses print and non-print methods of disseminating information (including magazines, newspapers, radio, and television) toa large number of people. One of the advantages of the mass media in health promotion activities and/or health intervention is that it can be used to reach very high numbers of people to engage in activities related to health behavior changes (Bala, Strzeszynski and Topor-Madry, 2017). Several authors have noted signiﬁcant positive roles of the mass media in health interventions and positive impacts in the promotion of health behavior changes among people with communicable and non-communicable diseases, reduction of mental health-related stigma, and improvement in health service utilization (Carson, Ameer, and Sayehmiri, 2017). Based on the roles the mass media can play in health intervention, authors have described the mass media as an educator, supporter, and promoter. Thus, the mass media can be utilized as an independent type of intervention for educating people and supporting lifestyle changes (Clement, Lassman, and Barley, 2013). In addition, the mass media can be utilized as a complementary form of intervention for promoting or supplementing the efficacies other interventions aimed at health promotion. Proper execution of mass media campaigns can help complement the efforts of clinicians toward the prevention of diseases (Stern, 2015). Therefore, the aim of this paper is to highlight the role of media in curbing the spread of coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria.
Objectives of the study
The general objective of this research is to determine the role of media in curbing the spread of coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria.
The specific objective of the research is to determine the following:
- The frequency of reports on media in curbing the spread of coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria.
- The nature of the coverage on Corona Virus by the media
- The positioning of the media report on corona virus disease
- The direction of coverage on corona virus in the media
The following research questions will guide the study;
- What is the frequency of reports on media in curbing the spread of coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria?
- What is the nature of the coverage on Corona Virus by the media?
- What is the positioning of the media report on corona virus disease?
- What is the direction of coverage on corona virus in the media?
Significance of the Study
As the rate of spread of corona virus increases in the country, there is an urgent need for extensive research to be conducted in the area. Granted that for most the issue of suicide could be delineated to the field of clinical sciences, and research, however, research and information gotten from the field of mass communication could be of value to the general body of knowledge in bringing solutions to the rising problem of infectious diseases in the country.
According to the Bryant and Miron (2004), the high-frequency consumption of media content makes people susceptible to the views projected in the media content they take in. If the assumptions are anything to go by then the need to investigate on the reportage of corona virus (one of the rising cases of cause death in the country) will be a move in the right direction.
This study will be of great help to media publishing houses who cover stories on related topics in order to help them shape their contents to be favorable to the health and psychology of their audience.
The research will add to the body of knowledge on the issue of Corona virus for scholars and research to build upon for further research.
Scope of the Study
This study focuses on the newspapers reports on Corona virus disease. Since every research has its time and limit, the scope of this study is the newspaper reportage or coverage of depression and suicide between February and December, 2020. The scope of this study is delimited to coverage of depression and suicide on only selected media publishing companies, Only issues surrounding the Corona virus disease will be the main interest of the study
The theoretical framework for this research is built around the agenda setting theory and the social responsibility theory of communication.
Agenda Setting Theory
The agenda setting theory is a theory of mass communication that provides explanation on how the media through its programmes and contents consciously and unconsciously list, plan or outline things, events or issues to be considered. The media according to the postulations of this theory set agenda for the public to follow through their coverage of issues, events or things in the society. The mass media achieve this by focusing attention or highlighting silent issues in the society through their coverage thereby making people to think along that line. The mass media according to the postulations of the theory of agenda setting play their drums and in the process the members of the society begin to dance to the tune of the music played by the media. The mass media in acting as agenda setters to the members of the society, the mass media may not tell the members of the society what to think about but what to think about.”
Considering this, McQuail (2010), posits that the term “agenda setting” was a coinage of McCombs and Shaw in 1972, in describing a phenomenon which had been noticed and studied in the context to the role the mass media played during electioneering campaigns. The main thrust of the theory holds that the news media through it coverage to issues, events and things in the society indicate to the public who are members of the society what the main issues of the day are and as such it is reflected in what the public perceives as the main issues. Trenaman and McQuail (1961) as cited by McQuail (2010) argues that “the agenda setting theory strongly suggest assumptions that members of the society think what they are told but at no time or level do they think what they are told.” Findings of studies on the agenda setting theory over the years after the development of the theory indicated that there is a correspondence between the order of importance given in the media to ‘issues’ and the order of significance attached to the same issues by members of the society and government officials.
The assumptions of the theory revolve around how the media play an active role in giving importance to issues which they highlight as important to the society. Nwabueze (2006), added that the media frequent coverage and highlighting or emphasizing prominence to issues in the media, members of the society attached importance to those issues the media have giving prominence to more than others.
Newspapers reports, or coverage on the Corona Virus disease highlight the importance it attached to the issues in the society. Governments and Nigerians began to pay serious attentions and attach importance to the disease as result of the consistent reportage of incidences by mass media channels such as the newspapers. Newspapers coverage on issues and events surrounding Corona Virus disease indicates to Nigerians what the main issues relating to health areas reflected in pages of the newspapers.
The agenda setting theory neglected the possible effects on what people think concerning who is important, where important things happen and why things are important. In it assumptions, the agenda setting theory did not give credence to who is important in the coverage of the media that makes the individual important for the media coverage, the location the importance things happen and why are the things or issues highlighted by media coverage are important to the members of the society. All these are not considerations to the postulations of the theory.
Another point of concern not reflected in the assumptions of the theory is the definition of what the agenda portrayed by the media is, are the issues reflected on the media coverage the agenda or priorities of the media, those of the public who are members of the society or those of the policy? In a way, was the coverage or highlight or prominence accorded to reports on depression and suicide, the priorities or interest of the media, members of the society or policy of the government?
The other theory that supported the theoretical framework of this study is the social responsibility theory.
Social Responsibility Media Theory
The social responsibility media theory is a development of the libertarian theory of the press. Okunna (1999) cited in Asemah (2011) described the theory as a modern theory which was developed in the mid-20th century. The thrust of the theory, was developed from the growing concern and awareness that in some important respects, the free market idea in the media popularise by the libertarian theory has failed to fulfil the promises of the media and deliver expected benefits to the members of the society.
Asemah (2011) argues that the social responsibility media theory is anchored on the notion of a free press acting responsibly to the society. This indicates that the media which enjoys considerable freedom from the government is obliged to be responsible to the communication needs in contemporary society.
Ojobor (2002) cited in Okujeni (2013) opines that the theory postulates that the operations and activities of the mass media practitioners and the media as institutions in the society can only be guarantee when the society is safe for all. Therefore, the mass media must consciously assist the society to achieve considerable safer environment for all its members.
In addition, the thrust of the theory indicates that the mass media in appreciation for enjoying considerable freedom in disseminating information to the members of the society must be accountable and responsible to the social needs of the society.
McQuail (2010, p.147) argues that a social responsible media should ‘provide a full, truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context which gives them meaning’. It should ‘serve as a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism’ and be a ‘common carrier of the public expression’. The media should also give a ‘representative picture of constituent groups in society’ and also present and clarify the ‘goals and values of society’.
McQuail (2010) however, highlighted the principles of the social responsibility media theory to include the following:
1. The media have obligations to society, and media ownership is a public trust.
2. News media should be truthful, accurate, fair, objective and relevant
3. The media should be free, but self-regulated
4. The media should follow agreed codes of ethics and professional conduct.
5. Under some circumstances, government may need to intervene to safeguard the public interest.
The incidences of health and infectious diseases in Nigeria has continued to assume worrisome dimensions. It threatens the survival of the society and the value for human lives in the country.
However, the thrust of this theory emphasizes the responsibility of the newspaper’s channels of communication in the society with strong influence in the society. It can influence the de-escalation of incidences of infectious diseases within the society as it enlightens people on the need for social distancing and precautionary measures to limit the spread of the disease as well as protect themselves from impending danger. Newspapers like other channels of the mass media are expected to be socially responsible and accountable to the sustenance the sanctity of human lives in society. Since most newspapers in Nigeria enjoy considerable freedom from the control of government, it is therefore, expected and obliged to be responsible in communicating meaningful information that would protect the populace against the corona Virus disease.
Definition of terms
- Newspapers: Newspapers are written publications containing published news and information on issues periodically published daily. It refers to the newspapers that covered and reported about the issues relating to depression and suicide in Nigeria.
- Communication: This is the process of sharing of information which includes five basic factors: an initiator; a recipient; a vehicle or channel; a message and an effect. The initiator designs or encodes the message and transfer the message through the vehicle with the intent of stimulating an effect.
- Print media: The print media refers to the channels of communication that present information on paper, published, printed medium such as newspapers and magazines as opposed to the broadcast media.
- Coverage: Coverage refers to the amount or totality of news and information provided by the newspapers on issues through its contents over a specific period. It can also be defined as the way the Nigerian newspapers reported or gave account of issues pertaining to depression and suicide.
- Suicide: The Cambridge dictionary defines suicide as the act of killing yourself intentionally or a person who has done this.
- Virus: A virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea
- Pandemic: A pandemic is a disease epidemic that has spread across a large region, for instance multiple continents, or worldwide. A widespread endemic disease with a stable number of infected people is not a pandemic. Further, flu pandemics generally exclude recurrences of seasonal flu.
- Epidemic: An epidemic is the rapid spread of disease to a large number of people in a given population within a short period of time. For example, in meningococcal infections, an attack rate in excess of 15 cases per 100,000 people for two consecutive weeks is considered an epidemic
- COVID-19: Corona Virus Disease 2019
- Polymerase Chain Reaction: Polymerase chain reaction is a medical test widely used in molecular biology to rapidly make millions to billions of copies of a specific DNA sample allowing scientists to take a very small sample of DNA and amplify it to a large enough amount to study in detail