(Journalist and Pandemic Media Mentor at Internews, Christophe Hitayezu, holds webinars to help journalists cover the pandemic.)
By Elias Hakizimana
Media practitioners should always engage the community to participate in their publications by educating, informing and educating through information sharing.
Rwandan health reporters, editors and media NGO have raised concerns that this engagement of the community is still low and have called for more effort to further encourage citizens to share their views to the press especially during hazardous times such as the one of covid-19.
They have been interacting via webinar session held today on July 9, 2020 in Kigali.
Francine Mukase, a journalist has embarked on media community engagement, saying that giving a platform to the citizens (voice) is still not enough. She advised media practitioners to educate citizens on how they can contribute to combating covid-19.
“A citizen sees a journalist in a picture of a friendly oriented professional whom they are closer, it is the same to community health workers (CHWs) where citizens interact with CHWs, so, it should be paramount for journalists to encourage citizens to teach each other in this way of information sharing because it is easy for a citizen to teach another citizen.”
During these discussions, the role of media in engaging the community was found serious in helping the country to combat coronavirus pandemic.
Christophe Hitayezu, Journalist and Pandemic Media Mentor at Internews said: “As the COVID-19 pandemic is staying for long, people are getting fed up of important health measures in place and started feeling like the virus has gone despite the increasing number of new cases. It’s therefore our duty as journalists to remind them that the virus is real and preventing the spread starts at individual level. Hence, the discussion brought together health reporters, editors, media NGOs and the government to discuss the challenges and strategies for media practitioners to help engage the community in combating COVID-19.”
However, some journalists highlighted a concern that it is sometimes difficult to tell citizens to abide with the measures of combating covid-19 due to the environment in which they are living, especially going to the markets.
“For example where I work from, in Rusizi district, it is not easy to tell a citizen that it is prohibited to make unnecessary movements and especially when it comes to shopping, what can be a solution is that the government can distribute enough food stuffs to the citizens in order to curb the increase of new infection,” said Alfred Ntakirutimana, a TV journalist in Rusizi district.
Ange Eric Hatangimana, another journalist said that media practitioners need the government’s support to go out there in the community to educate them on the best practices in combating covid-19.
Other journalists said that they have a barrier to access to information during the curfew hours (from 9pm to 5am) as security officials do not allow them to meet people.
Emmanuel Mugisha, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) told journalists to have special working measures during the periods of covid-19.
“We need to care much about the society by making stories that analyze the current problem” he noted.
Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo, the Executive Secretary of Media High Council (MHC) reminded journalists that they should share the guidelines of combating covid-19 to the citizens.
“Always when a person does not have information he/she cannot see the future, he/she cannot have a role the development of the country. Journalists chose a good profession which is noble, the news you deliver, the advocacy you do, and the problems on the ground you expose make a great contribution of media to the nation and citizen’s lives in general,” Mbungiramihigo noted.