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Independent journalism and reliable media are crucial for an effective response towards the novel coronavirus pandemic, but they are also under threat. Here are three steps to advocate more effectively for free speech.
A shopkeeper reads the newspaper at his shop during lockdown in wake of Coronavirus pandemic in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India
Accreditation withdrawal, verbal abuse and arbitrary arrests: Amid the COVID-19 crisis, at a time when independent and strong media systems are more important than ever, media professionals around the world are facing attacks on their work. Additionally, travel restrictions and surveillance due to the pandemic are leaving journalists struggling to conduct meetings and interviews as usual.
These challenges can have disastrous consequences, as media are key to providing citizens with trustworthy information that might save lives.
"We are not just fighting a pandemic, we are fighting an infodemic," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization. "False news spreads faster than the virus and is just as dangerous."
Reliable and professional outlets are urgently needed to counter this misinformation. But the crisis has added new difficulties to a sector already on a shaky economic footing.
Urgently needed: Media freedom advocacy
This is precisely why advocacy for strong and independent media is now more important than ever. Here are three practical tips on how to strengthen your advocacy messages and take a stance for media freedom during the crisis.
1. Frame your message
Framing is a powerful communication tool. Based on the frame you choose, you can achieve very different implications and outcomes. You want to frame your advocacy messages in a way that they are most persuasive for the people they are aimed at. Contextual knowledge, i.e. local and cultural understanding, is key. Here are three examples of frames that you might employ for your own messages:
Responsible policy frame: Under the current circumstances, you could appeal to a responsible leadership by highlighting the importance of reliable public information to safeguard citizens’ health.
Merit good frame: You can emphasize the benefit to society when all citizens, including marginalized groups, have better access to information and therefore take precautions against the spread of the disease.
Patriotic frame: You can advocate for media literacy programs as they improve the resilience of your country’s population.
2. Update your tactics
It is crucial to provide sound data as well as practical and affordable solutions to pressing problems. While restrictions on gatherings have been imposed in places across the world, this could be a good time to update the facts and figures underlying your work.
Why not use the momentum to do a new round of desk research? Or start an online poll in your community to collect new data underpinning your argument? You could also gather stories from people affected by the current situation, and use these to illustrate your cause in a compelling way.
The situation may have also brought new actors to the forefront who are key to your cause, such as influencers in the health sector who are eager to cooperate with the media. Scan the landscape and adapt your message and tactics accordingly.
Resources and funding are scarce right now, perhaps more than at other times. Joining forces with like-minded individuals and organizations can increase the chances of achieving your advocacy goals.
Developing such cooperation requires thorough insight into the strengths and weaknesses of other actors in the field as well as of your own organization. Investigate: Who has complementary capacities and relationships that your organization might benefit from, and vice versa?
Some aspects you should consider before joining forces: Do you share the same purpose? Do you have similar standards of practice? What are the infrastructures you could use and is there enough support on both sides to sustain the efforts?
Author: Judith Liesenfeld (am)
One of our aims at #mediadev is to encourage exchange and collaboration between those in the media development field. Let us know about your experiences and how you are using and adapting your advocacy work amid the pandemic at email@example.com. Please also share best practice under the #mediadev hashtag on Twitter.