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03.08.2016 - Communication & Information Sector

Zika information campaign: Improving media coverage on the virus, epidemics and crisis


The current Zika virus outbreaks have caused increasing alarm in countries across the world, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Recently, The World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that “based on research, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrom” - intensifying even more its harmfulness and the need for preventive action.

It is part of UNESCO’s initiative to guarantee media’s principles, such as pluralism of sources and content, editorial independence, impartiality as well as access to information even in times of epidemics and crisis. This will actually also multiply the effectiveness of disaster-preparation and disaster-relief plans. In this regard, media pluralism is essential as it provides diverse platforms for communication. In particular, the power of radio: its proximity to the population and its ease of access to information in real time, provide a unique opportunity to reach the largest audience in the world in the shortest possible time. In situations of crisis and emergency, radio is specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people and to effectively disseminate prevention messages, as highlighted during the celebrations of World Radio Day 2016 – last 13th of February.

To contribute to the fight against Zika, UNESCO mobilized its partners’ radio network all across the Latin American and Caribbean region. Informative and preventive radio spots against the spread of the virus were produced in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The spots available in the 4 languages of the LAC region (English, French, Portuguese and Spanish) were distributed to UNESCO’s broadcasting partners all over the Latin America and Caribbean region. By providing valuable resources to public, private and community radio stations, UNESCO communicated on the risks associated with the virus and promoted healthy behaviors among the populations in afflicted areas.

Leading international broadcasting networks and organizations - such as the International Association of Broadcasters (AIR-IAB), the Caribbean Broadcasters Union (CBU), Radio France Internationale (RFI) and the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC) among others - have advertised, distributed and broadcasted the spots. UNESCO Member States’ National Commission from the Latin American and Caribbean region were also involved. In total, 789 radio stations joined the campaign throughout the whole region.

The radio spots against Zika virus were actually distributed from International Association of Broadcasters Central Office to all institutional and individual members in 18 countries of the three Americas, representing over 17,000 radio stations. They have received positive responses from a large number of stations that make up the National Association of Broadcasters in Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica and El Salvador. Same success for the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC), over 280 of their partner radio stations have broadcasted the preventive radio messages in their local community. Radio France Internationale (RFI) who possesses strong ties with over 2,000 stations in the region has likewise advertised and distributed the UNESCO audio files.

In Brazil, where the Zika epidemic is particularly virulent, Agência Radioweb Brazil – an online radio plateform – has uploaded the spots on its homepage. They were downloaded and broadcasted by about 450 radio stations in the country, covering 394 cities with a total potential audience of 53,6 million people (see the map).

The campaign allowed local broadcasters to access quality and scientifically accurate preventive content free of any charge. Their audience were empowered with reliable information about the virus, its transmission modes, as well as concrete and simple means to protect themselves from it. The short spots were broadcasted during prime time slots throughout the day by private, public and associative radio stations to ensure maximum coverage.

Acknowledgments: This successful campaign was made possible thanks to the strong support and involvement from our partner broadcasting networks (AMARC, AIR-IAB, Public Media Alliance, CBU) who advertised and shared the spots to all their members and partners across the Latin America and Caribbean region. We also would like to extend our thanks to Radio France Internationale (RFI) for promoting the campaign to their partner radio stations in the region. Sincere gratitude to our colleagues from the Delegations and UNESCO National Commissions of the LAC region for their cooperation in liaising with governments and relevant ministries to publicize our action. We are also very grateful for the International Federation of the Red Cross and the World Health Organization who shared their expertise and experience to help develop the radio preventive message with accurate content about the virus.

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