By Siti Solehah
KUALA LUMPUR, 29 April 2021: The mainstream media has a role to educate and persuade the people to take the COVID-19 vaccines in effort to counter widespread misinformation carried on social media, Dr. Wan Norshira Wan Mohd Ghazali told BFM station recently.
Dr. Wan Norshira, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, was speaking during an interview with the station on the topic “Media Messaging and Vaccines in Malaysia” where she highlighted the pressing issue related to the role of media in delivering accurate information regarding vaccination on COVID-19.
Social media, she stressed, works as an open platform for people to search for information. “For instance, the anti-vax groups cited many unreliable sources and their voice in spreading such misinformation had negatively influenced many people.” She was responding, in particular, to a question from the radio station on what had triggered the issue of vaccination to be prone to misinformation.
According to Dr. Wan Norshira, her research had found that news on vaccination covered by the Malay newspapers was only 23 percent compared to the coverage given by the English newspapers which was 76.8 percent.
The gap in the percentage is due to the different target audiences for both types of newspapers. However, she stressed that despite the higher percentage of coverage for the English newspapers, the information is still insufficient to persuade people on the benefit of vaccines.
Asked about her observation on how the media have been covering the issue on the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, she responded that the government has been utilising the media on a vast scale to promote the COVID-19 vaccines.
However, she said, there have been many loopholes in the media coverage such as the news carried sensational headlines that could only create distress and cause unnecessary pressures on the people.
“I know the media’s main focus is for the people to click on the headline. However, this method is not suitable because it did not go along with the government’s initiative to promote the COVID-19 vaccines,” she said.
Therefore, she felt that the media needs to be more responsible in reporting the information as vaccination has been a very sensitive issue especially during the current pandemic.
To a question as to how the media should be balanced when reporting the pros and cons of the vaccines without creating unnecessary fuss, Dr. Wan Norshira replied, “For the media to be a trusted source, they should thoroughly convey information on the pros and the cons of the vaccines. This is because people today do not blindly accept whatever information communicated, instead, they will always analyse the information.”
She believed that if the media could play such a role, the people could be exposed to different views and that will assist them to make the right decision on issues concerning their health.
Responding to how the media should frame the stories regarding vaccinations to persuade people to take the vaccines, she said: “Framing is a great way to spread information. It can be used not only to provide knowledge but also help diminish uncertainties among the people and rectify their misunderstandings regarding the vaccines.”
She told the interview that her research recently came up with four framing styles that can be used by the media in delivering information; informative and awareness, proactive, warning, and policy or action frame.
When asked on how the media should fill the gap in reporting responsibly and credibly especially on the issue of COVID-19, she suggested for media outlets to adopt certain guidelines on how to report the issue just like how suicide cases should be reported.
She said: “The media should focus more on effective coverage such as using emotional appeal where readers would not only understand the issue but would also be able to feel the importance of the issue. In fact, this has been the strategy used by the anti-vaxxers where they used experiences and emotions to persuade the people.”
Dr. Wan Norshira also mentioned that her research team is currently in the process of developing guidelines for the media to use. Although her team had not worked out specific guidelines on how to report on the issue of COVID-19 vaccines, she said that her team would come up with the do’s and the don’ts for media to report on the issue of vaccination in general.
The interview was conducted for “Pressing Matters” slot on the Morning Run (29 March) on BFM, and the podcast version of the interview is available on BFM official website.***
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