Background

COVID-19 is an infectious viral disease that became an epidemic (it spread across your country) and is now a pandemic (it has spread across many countries).

Your radio station can play a crucial role. You can help keep your listeners stay safe, and you can help them prevent the spread of this disease!

At a time when physical group meetings are unsafe, your station can be the essential forum for discussion and support about COVID-19 in your location.

Think about it.

  • You broadcast in the local language.
  • You have gained the respect of your listeners over the years for your reliable and factual programming.
  • You regularly provide listeners with an opportunity to express their concerns on air.

No organization is better positioned to provide this essential service at this time!

This guide will help you produce and broadcast effective radio programs to best manage COVID-19 in your area. It will also link you to organizations that can help you. The guide covers:

  1. What is COVID-19? Who does it affect? How is it spread? Who is most affected (or vulnerable) during the pandemic?
  2. What are the World Health Organization (WHO) and national health guidelines for managing COVID-19?
  3. Prioritize women’s voices and concerns.
  4. What are the six purposes of effective COVID-19 programming?
  5. What challenges might your radio station face?
  6. How do you get started?

You will find the following appendices:

  • Appendix 1: Where can we get more help from Farm Radio International and other sources to make effective COVID-19 programming?
  • Appendix 2: Sample program elements and items that reflect the six purposes of effective COVID-19 programming.
  • Appendix 3: Sample run sheet for an episode of a COVID-19 program.

Details

1. What is Covid 19?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a virus. The most common symptoms include fever, difficulty with breathing, tiredness, and dry cough. Many infected people have no symptoms and don’t feel ill. Most people recover without special treatment. However, many become seriously ill, and a small percentage of infected people die.

Who does COVID-19 affect?

Anyone can get COVID-19. Older people and people with health issues such as heart problems, diabetes, or high blood pressure are more likely to become seriously ill. However, COVID-19 also infects younger people. Everyone with fever, a cough, or difficulty breathing should stay away from other people, monitor their symptoms carefully, rest, and eat healthy food.

Children and youth can be infected just as any other age group, but are less likely to get severe disease. They can also spread the disease.

How does COVID-19 spread?

The disease is highly contagious! It spreads in three ways:

  • when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, shouts, or sings, and their virus-loaded saliva contacts a nearby person’s mouth, nose or eyes. Note that scientific studies have shown that saliva normally travels 1 metre or less, but can travel up to 2 metres. This is the major route of infection for the COVID-19 virus.
  • when tiny specks of the virus become airborne and come into contact with someone’s mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • when an infected person’s saliva lands on a surface (e.g. food, tool, furniture, clothing) which is later touched by another person who then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.

For further information, see Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): How is it transmitted?

Many people who have the disease show no symptoms and continue with their daily lives and interactions with other people. You can have the virus and not be sick! But you can still transmit the virus to others. That is why it is especially important for everyone to follow the national health guidelines to stop COVID-19.

To date there is no medical cure for COVID-19, although there are some drugs that reduce symptoms and reduce the chance of dying. If symptoms worsen, a person should contact a medical centre that treats people with COVID-19.

As of February 2021, a number of vaccines have been approved in various countries, and more are being developed. These are likely to be widely available within the coming months or a few years, though distribution to rural areas may be slower. But, regardless of the progress on vaccinating the population, it will continue to be necessary to take precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks for some months or even longer.

2. What are the World Health Organization (WHO) and national health guidelines?

Health guidelines are activities that everyone should or must do in order to stay safe and to stop the spread of COVID-19. Since the impact of the virus on the community changes over time, the health guidelines might also change somewhat over time.

Some guidelines are created by international health organizations, and others by national or sub-national organizations. Some have the force of law; others are simply recommendations.

The following guidelines are adapted from World Health Organizations guidelines. There is widespread agreement about the following general preventive practices.

At home

  • Stay home as much as possible
  • Cough or sneeze into your bent elbow or a tissue.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently (many times a day). Note that if purchased soap is not available, homemade soap is acceptable. If no soap is available, vigorously rub hands under running water. But do this only as a last resort—using soap is always more effective.
  • Regularly wash any surfaces that people in your home touch.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Do not invite people other than your immediate family into your home.
    If someone does come into your home, wear a mask and stay 1-2 metres away from them.
  • If a family member has a fever, a cough, or difficulty breathing, keep them home and seek medical care where available. If someone in your family is infected or has symptoms of COVID-19 infection, it’s recommended that everyone in that family stay home.
  • If you are caring for a sick person, wear gloves, a mask, and wash your hands often. Avoid touching your face.

Caring for children

  • Encourage children to wash their hands regularly. Instruct children not to touch their faces. Ensure that children wash hands before eating.
  • It is ok for children to play freely with other children and adults in their home.
  • If children have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus or if they show symptoms, they should follow the same guidance on self-quarantine and self-isolation as adults. It is particularly important that children avoid contact with older people and others who are at risk of more severe disease.

Out in the community

  • Wear an appropriate mask or other face covering that covers your mouth and nose.
  • Keep a distance of at least 1 to 2 metres from other people.
  • Wash hands immediately after purchasing goods at the market, and upon returning home.
  • Avoid traditional greetings that involve physical contact such as hugs, handshakes, and kisses. (Instead, use a wave, a nod, a bow, or simply words.)
  • Avoid all indoor meetings.
  • At outdoor meetings (religious meetings or services, women’s organization meetings, farmers’ organization meetings, etc.), make sure everyone has a mask or other face covering, and make sure people are spaced 1 to 2 metres apart.
  • Where possible, encourage your children to stay 2 metres apart from friends when playing and to play outdoors.
  • Encourage children to wash their hands regularly. Instruct children not to touch their faces. Ensure that children wash hands before eating.

These are general guidelines. In your country, the national government will issue a set of national health guidelines for your citizens and organizations to follow. Other levels of government (for example, regions, states, provinces, and communes) may also issue guidelines. It is essential that your radio station promote the guidelines provided by your government. Please keep in mind that guidelines should be considered a minimum: individuals, organizations, businesses may want to adopt more protective practices.

* Please also remember that, because a significant percentage of people who have been infected with COVID-19 do not show symptoms, it is important to follow these guidelines whether or not individuals show signs of infection.

3. Prioritize women’s voices and concerns

All COVID-19 programming should place women’s voices and concerns at the centre. Women traditionally play a great number of roles in the family and community: they set the standards for health in the home, are the main buyers and sellers at food markets, take care of the sick at home, and are the main front-line workers at health centres that treat COVID-19 patients. Their efforts should be recognized and supported, and men and boys should be encouraged to contribute more to family and community tasks. Your station should also encourage local authorities to engage women in each step of decision-making around how to handle COVID-related challenges in your broadcasting area.

Share messages that reinforce positive behaviours that keep children and women safe in their homes. For example, women and children may experience significantly more domestic violence during a health crisis such as COVID-19. As COVID-19-related public health measures cause communities to “lockdown” increasing both economic and psychological stress, violence in the home may increase. Support and reporting mechanisms and structures such as schools, counsellors, and community groups are needed more than ever, but may be disrupted by the pandemic. Your station can share information on supports such as women’s helplines/hotlines, as well as services that provide support for parents/caregivers, including guidance on how to report suspected violence, including gender-based violence.

4. The six purposes of effective COVID-19 programming

There are six purposes of effective COVID-19 programming. They should be covered in every episode of your daily or weekly COVID-19 program.

Purpose 1) Provide accurate news about the COVID-19 situation in your local area and your country. This includes promoting government programs that support individuals or business during COVID. Such programs offer both direct and indirect support. For examples, see Appendix 2.

Purpose 2) Correct fake news, hoaxes, and other misinformation. (See Challenge #3 below)

Purpose 3) Broadcast and clarify health guidelines repeatedly, in the language of your listeners. Publicize alternative means of protection when, for example, it is difficult to find soap for handwashing, or when social distancing is difficult.

Purpose 4) Give local leaders an opportunity to show leadership in efforts to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Purpose 5) Give listeners the opportunity to speak of their concerns about adopting the guidelines—and have those concerns addressed by knowledgeable officials, health experts, and other listeners.

Purpose 6) Support listeners and organizations as they work to overcome challenges and adopt the health guidelines.

5. What challenges might your radio station face?

Producing and broadcasting COVID-19 programming will not be easy or straightforward. But it is a crucial service, and in the long run, it will increase the respect that your listeners—and your community—have for your station. Here are some of the challenges you need to be ready for.

Challenge 1) Resources: You may need to re-assign some of the station’s resources and airtime that are currently used for other programs. Thus, it is important for everyone to agree that COVID-19 programming is a priority service for the station to provide. Your station might also lose staff due to lockdowns, and you might lose transmission due to power outages and temporarily lose the ability to transmit your program.

Challenge 2) Promoting and interpreting government guidelines: If your government has a comprehensive national plan to fight COVID-19, the task of your radio station is to help implement that plan. This mainly involves:

  • providing clear information about the national health guidelines, and
  • supporting your listeners as they implement those national health guidelines.

This does not mean that you cannot interpret how the guidelines can be best implemented in your listening area. Two examples:

-  A national guideline might require everyone to scrub their hands many times a day with soap and water. However, soap might be in very short supply in part of your listening area. Find people who can talk about where to get soap. You can also find people (including health authorities) who can talk about how to make soap, how to make a public washing station, and also about effective alternatives to scrubbing hands with soap and water. If access to water is an issue, interview people (including health authorities) who can speak to this issue as well as how to follow sanitary guidelines without access to clean water. (Click here to find out about soap-making.)

- A national guideline might say that everyone should wear a mask while around other people. However, there may not be any masks available in stores or shops in parts of your broadcast area. Find people who know where to get masks, and also how to make effective masks.

Challenge 3) Dealing with hoaxes and misinformation: There are websites and organizations and individuals who say that COVID-19 is a hoax. There are also many myths about how the virus is spread. Scientists overwhelmingly confirm that COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that can destroy lives and economies. Station staff, however, might have to deal with resistance and hostility from citizens who believe COVID-19 is a hoax. Make sure that your station supports and defends your staff as it promotes the health guidelines.

Challenge 4) Adapting to restrictions caused by the disease: While COVID-19 programming would benefit greatly from face-to-face panel discussions and in-studio interviews, as well as from visits to remote villages, these activities might not be possible because of the threat to your employees and to the people you interview. However, creative programmers will be able to work around these restrictions. (Click here for FRI’s guide on conducting a panel discussion via mobile phones.)

Challenge 5) Keeping your staff and guests safe: A radio station usually brings staff and citizens together to work in an enclosed space. This is, regrettably, a good way to spread COVID-19! Follow these guidelines for a safe station:

  • Do as much hosting, interviewing, and editing as possible outdoors, involving only one person on one recording machine. Put the interviewee’s mic on a cable that will keep them 1 to 2 metres away from the interviewer.
  • Make sure all staff and all guests wear masks at all times and work at least 1 to 2 metres from each other.
  • Make a rigorous plan to sanitize your station regularly. Wipe all mics, etc. with disinfectant between uses. (Do not put disinfectant directly on a mic, recorder, or control board. Spray it onto a rag and then wipe the equipment with that rag.)
  • Make sure that any staff or guests showing COVID-19 symptoms avoid coming to the station—even to work outdoors.
  • Replace studio interviews with phone interviews.
  • Be supportive of staff who cannot work because they have to look after family members who have COVID-19, as well as staff affected by lockdowns, school closures, sickness, etc.

6. How do you get started?

Getting started 1) Confirm station management approval for the program concept, for the program time slot, and for daily spot announcements. Confirm station management approval for program staffing and for other resources needed to do effective programming.

Getting started 2) Ensure the producer/host has a good understanding of COVID-19 and health guidelines and can get the most important information to air. The host should also have a proven ability to sympathize with listeners, help them speak of their concerns, mourn their losses, support them as they take important steps, and celebrate their successes.

Getting started 3) Design the daily/weekly program, and identify and secure the staffing, equipment, and other resources needed. There should be a daily or weekly program that is 15-60 minutes long. If possible, broadcast a repeat of a weekly program on another day and at another time.

Getting started 4) Design daily spot announcements (to be broadcast in station breaks and during other programs) to reinforce the messages of the main COVID-19 program.

Getting started 5) Contact the local agency that is coordinating the COVID-19 response in your area. Get it to agree to:

  • Provide a clear translation of the national health guidelines in the language of your listeners.
  • Give regular updates about COVID-19 activities the agency is pursuing locally.
  • Provide information about what medical facilities are available for listeners who have serious symptoms, and what services are available for people with less serious symptoms. Learn about the steps listeners need to take to contact their medical facilities.
  • Provide experts for interviews (over the phone or in-person at a distance)
  • Promote your station’s COVID-19 programming.
  • Provide regular data about the state of the epidemic in your area, for example:
    infection trends in your area: are cases increasing? Decreasing?

    • number of people infected, (old, middle-aged, youth, children)
    • number of people hospitalized
    • number of people recovered
    • number of people who have died
  • Provide news about local “hotspots” responsible for significant numbers of infections.

If your contact with the nearest local COVID-19 agency doesn’t give you what you need, contact the national agency that is coordinating the national response to COVID-19. Find out what regular support you can get from them (e.g., news, interviews, etc.)

It may be difficult for many radio stations to coordinate these tasks with local or national agencies. In this case, ask women’s groups, other radio stations, health centres, local politicians, and local leaders to approach the local or national agency.

Getting started 6) Find local knowledgeable leaders who agree to be interviewed regularly and to participate in panel discussions (if possible) and one-on-one interviews. These should include leaders from:

  • Women’s organizations
  • Youth-led organizations and school clubs
  • Farmers’ organizations
  • Health and medical agencies
  • Schools and training institutions
  • Market vendor groups
  • Traditional and elected governments
  • Locally-observed religions
  • Trained counsellors
  • Others who exercise positive leadership in your area.

Getting started 7) Find local citizens who have recovered from COVID-19 (or who have family members who have recovered) and are willing to talk about their experience. This will help bring home the reality of the disease. It will also help break the stigma that is directed at many survivors, and counteract the myth that once you are infected with COVID-19, you have it for life. It will also help people interact with those who have recovered without stigmatizing them. Reach out to traditional healers to see if any have been referring patients to mainstream clinics, hospitals, and health centres, interview them on air, and ask why.

Getting started 8) Reach out to other rural radio stations in your country and find out what they are doing and what ideas and program resources you can share. You can also use FRI’s resources on COVID-19, available here.

Getting started 9) Find a way to get feedback from your listeners and from the local health authorities about how effective your COVID-19 programming is. Make improvements to your programming along the way. For example, you could:

  • Have a phone-in and ask listeners what they think of your current COVIR-19 programming and what more they need.
  • Conduct a phone poll
  • Have a panel discussion with local leaders, asking their opinions of your COVID-19 programming and what more they need.

Getting started 10) Confirm station management approval for a plan to keep station and program staff and guests safe. (See above.)

Getting started 11) Keep notes. COVID-19 is likely not the last pandemic you will see. Begin and maintain a diary of notes outlining lessons learned: e.g., what works and what does not work, and how you would do things better in a future epidemic.

Appendix 1

Where can we get more help from Farm Radio International and other sources to make effective COVID-19 programming?

Find FRI’s backgrounders, broadcaster how-to guides, FAQs, fact sheets, and other resources on COVID-19 here. Find our Farmer stories related to COVID-19 (and other emergencies) here.

Selected list of FRI resources on COVID-19:

Other resources on COVID-19 include:

Africa Check. All our coronavirus fact-checks in one place. https://africacheck.org/reports/live-guide-all-our-coronavirus-fact-checks-in-one-place/

Broom, F. Slightly dirty water ‘still ok’ against coronavirus. SciDev.Net. 20 March 2020. https://www.scidev.net/global/water/news/slightly-dirty-water-still-ok-against-coronavirus.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. Clinical Questions about COVID-19: Questions and Answers. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings (Interim Guidance). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html

Committee to Protect Journalists, 2020. CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering the coronavirus outbreak. https://cpj.org/2020/02/cpj-safety-advisory-covering-the-coronavirus-outbr.php

Farid, H., 2020. Intimacy, sex, and COVID-19. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intimacy-sex-and-covid-19-2020041519550

Farid, H., and Memon, B., 2020. Pregnant and worried about the new coronavirus? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/pregnant-and-worried-about-the-new-coronavirus-2020031619212#q2

Harrison, Sylvie, and Cuddeford, Vijay, 2017. BH2: How to plan and produce effective emergency response programming for farmers. Farm Radio International. http://scripts.farmradio.fm/radio-resource-packs/105-farm-radio-resource-pack/plan-produce-effective-emergency-response-programming-farmers/

Harvard Health Publishing, 2020. COVID-19 basics. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-basics

Lewis, Katya Podkovyroff, 2020. Mental and physical health of reporters during COVID-19. https://ijnet.org/en/story/mental-and-physical-health-reporters-during-covid-19

Wenham, C., Smith, J., and Morgan, R., on behalf of the Gender and COVID-19 Working Group, 2020. COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak. The Lancet: Vol 395. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30526-2/fulltext

World Health Organization, 2020. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses.

World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters” https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

Appendix 2

Sample program elements and items that reflect the six purposes of effective COVID-19 programming

Here are programming ideas that cover the six purposes of effective COVID-19 mentioned above. Effective COVID-19 programs should address each of these purposes, though individual episodes may not cover all six.

1) Provide accurate news about the COVID-19 situation in your local area and your country.

  • Provide news about the progress of the epidemic locally, and the response to it. This can include:
    • What is the impact of COVID-19 on women? on farmers? on vendors?
    • What is the government doing to fight the disease in your area?
    • What is the impact on the food supply, on nutrition, on jobs?
    • How well are local people complying with national health guidelines?
  • Has the government ordered citizens to take specific steps?
  • Get phone reports from outlying villages, highlighting specific concerns and good practices there.
  • Provide announcements about any COVID-19 activities coming up in your area, for example, dates or estimated dates that the vaccine will be available in your country, and what the plan is for vaccinating front-line health workers, people with underlying health issues, older people, etc.
  • Here are some examples of government programs that directly or indirectly support individuals or businesses during COVID:
    • In Rwanda, in conjunction with the total lockdown in March 2020, the government distributed food to vulnerable households all over the country as well as fixing prices for 17 essential foods, including rice, spaghetti, maize flour, beans, soap, cooking oil, and porridge flour. The government also fixed prices for processed foods, many of which are imported from China.
    • In Kenya, existing cash transfer programs target over a million people, who receive 2,000 Kenyan shillings, or $19, per month. The government allocated an additional 10 billion shillings to this program to support vulnerable groups including the elderly and orphans during the pandemic.
    • In Burkina Faso, a new $10 million cash transfer program for fruits and vegetable sellers was announced.

2) Correct fake news and misinformation

Correct any misinformation and fake news that is circulating in your area. Hold phone-ins and ask listeners to talk about any suspicious information or claims about COVID-19 and how to deal with them. Make sure you have a guest who can deal with this information. There is a huge amount of fake news, hoaxes, and myths circulating about various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, touting unsubstantiated cures (steam therapy, heat, cold, onions, garlic, etc.) or suggesting that the pandemic itself or the various vaccines are part of a political conspiracy.

For more on recognizing and combatting fake news and disinformation, see Fake news: How to identify it and what to do about it and https://africacheck.org/2020/12/14/fighting-the-covid-19-infodemic-five-strategies-for-african-fact-checkers

3) Broadcast and clarify health guidelines repeatedly, in the language of your listeners.

  • Have your local health unit provide a clear translation of the national health guidelines in the language of your listeners.
  • Create one or more memorable jingles that cover all major guidelines, broadcast them inside your COVID-19 program and during station breaks. You could air FRI’s two series of spots about COVID-19. Find them here and here.
  • Broadcast the COVID-19 health guidelines throughout all seven days of your weekly program schedule.
  • Air lighthearted interviews with children and others where they try to recite the guidelines—and get some of them wrong! Make sure you make the corrections gently!
  • Ask listeners to create poems, riddles, or songs about the guidelines.

Run a quiz, either a call-in or live in the studio (with appropriate distancing and other preventive measures). Focus the quiz on the ways that the disease is spread, myths and misinformation, facts about the vaccine, etc. The quiz should mix information and entertainment, and must include an expert who can speak authoritatively, dispelling myths and stating facts.

4) Give local leaders an opportunity to show leadership in efforts to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

This can include:

  • expressing their support for the health guidelines
  • explaining how the guidelines will be implemented in their organization
  • outlining any concerns they have about implementing the guidelines, and how they will deal with these concerns.

5) Give listeners the opportunity to speak of their concerns about adopting the guidelines—and have those concerns addressed by knowledgeable officials, health experts, and other listeners.

In times of great stress, people often turn to respected local leaders for sympathy, guidance, support, and example. You should interview local leaders who are traditional leaders, civic officers, local health officials, heads of farmers’ and women’s organizations, religious leaders, educators, etc.

  • Have a regular phone-in segment where listeners can raise their concerns.
  • Have a knowledgeable guest who can deal with the concerns.
  • If available, broadcast episodes of a drama that dramatizes the life of a local family living with the challenges of COVID-19.

6) Support listeners and organizations as they work to overcome challenges and adopt health guidelines.

  • Start the program with an upbeat sig (signature) tune that provides a “together we can beat this” message.
  • Have the host convey a generally positive attitude throughout the program, while acknowledging the need for solemnity when interviewing someone who has suffered loss.
  • Interview local people who have taken significant steps to help the community adopt the guidelines, e.g.
    • Setting up a mask-making workshop.
    • Setting up a soap-making business
    • Marking social distancing spaces in the market to protect the health of vendors and buyers alike.
    • Getting men to share caregiving and other household and community tasks.
  • Provide a hotline that citizens can call to explain a problem they are having adopting one or more of the guidelines. Have a knowledgeable person respond with a helpful answer. Broadcast the call and response on air.
  • Have citizens use the hotline to share tips on how they are implementing one or more of the guidelines in tricky situations. Provide a weekly prize for the person with the best tip.
  • Send greetings to anyone travelling to your area for work on the local response to COVID-19. Interview them on air when you can.
  • End the program with a positive promo for the next episode.
  • Organize special “days” or program events where you celebrate various COVID-19 achievements, such as:
    • A reduction in the number of new cases reported by health authorities
    • The opening of a new mask-making group
  • Interview local people who are taking positive steps to keep healthy and to help others be healthy.
  • Interview an infected person who was treated for COVID-19 and received useful treatment.
  • Hold a regular phone-in discussion that encourages listeners to raise their concerns, and that allows experts and other listeners to explain how to overcome those concerns.
  • Where possible, have a “beep to vote” component where listeners can vote by telephone on what are the most important challenges they face while implementing the guidelines. Have a knowledgeable person respond to the poll results.
  • End with a promo for your next program with highlights of its most important content.
  • Celebrate citizens’ and organizations’ achievements in implementing the national health guidelines.
  • Summarize important points that listeners should remember from this episode.
  • Thank listeners and all who put the program together, and provide a closing message of hope and support.
  • Play an extro Sig tune that reinforces the spirit of optimism “if we all work together.”

Appendix 3

Sample run sheets for an episode of a COVID-19 program

Sample 1

Sample 2

Acknowledgements

Contributed by: Doug Ward, Past chair, Farm Radio International.

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.