A Global Pandemic with Local Nuances: Population Media Center Provides a Trusted Voice to High-Risk Audiences

South Burlington, VT, April 07, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Viruses like COVID-19 don’t care about where you live, your gender, or your socioeconomic status, but these demographic characteristics may impact your risk for contracting this condition. Self-isolation or quarantine is almost impossible when entire families live in one room. Women around the world collect water from communal locations for the survival of their families. Social distancing is extremely difficult for those who rely on public latrines and baths. Handwashing or caring for others is challenging without indoor plumbing or soap. And these are logistical realities; cultural and economic realities can even more greatly hinder or enhance people’s abilities to stay safe during this global pandemic.

Population Media Center (PMC) creates stories to improve the lives of high-risk audiences, broadcasting hit serialized radio and TV shows. The international audiences we entertain while addressing gender equality, reproductive health, and women’s and girls’ empowerment are people who will be especially vulnerable to COVID-19, so we’re embedding COVID-19 information into our shows.

“PMC staff members globally have responded to this crisis with an outpouring of energy as we utilize PMC’s communication expertise to help the most vulnerable populations avoid the worst of what this pandemic threatens to inflict,” says Bill Ryerson, President and Founder of Population Media Center.

PMC’s preexisting network of broadcast partners and on-air entertainment provide a pre-built, credible delivery system to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. In collaboration with local health ministries and other trusted information sources like the World Health Organization, Population Media Center is creating new content with prevention messaging in local languages.

“PSAs and jingles are helpful with simplistic messaging and behavior change,” says Kriss Barker, PMC’s Vice President of International Programs, “and in some places those will help. What PMC brings to the table that goes beyond direct messaging is multi-fold. First, we already have engaged audiences of particularly vulnerable populations, a ready-built audience. Second, our shows and characters are a trusted voice. Our audiences know and love the characters they tune in for — they have emotional bonds through which to view actions or advice given by these characters. Third, our shows are long-running, so we can reach these audiences over the course of days, weeks, and months with repetitive messages and evolving messages since we know the situation will continue to evolve.”

Every Population Media Center office around the world has pivoted in the past weeks to adjust to the realities in their location. Although the messages about washing your hands and social distancing are common, other challenges and contexts can be quite different.

In Haiti, as an example, it’s important to understand that any response to a global pandemic is further challenged by months of unrest. National security declined across Haiti during the fall of 2019 and only got worse. People have been tuning into the Zoukoutap (“To Limp”) series since its debut in 2013, and Zoukoutap 3, which began broadcasting in November of 2018, has been a stable element of people’s lives in unstable times — a source for information and an entertaining reprieve from the national tension. As one might imagine, a previously tense situation only gets more stressful with the introduction of health fears and dire needs imposed upon a limited health care infrastructure.

PMC’s Haitian team is adding a 12-episode series in addition to its standard lineup on radio stations and social media, along with fun yet helpful things like a 20-second version of the theme song that can be downloaded as a ringtone for teaching the length of proper handwashing. The additional mini-series will allow the audience to follow familiar characters navigating a new reality, beginning with an invitation to a party that directly contradicts public health warnings against social gatherings. In addition to common prevention techniques, the series will also address myths and discrimination around COVID-19.

Many issues PMC works on in Haiti are expected to be exacerbated during this stressful time, such as increased violence against child slaves (Restaveks) and people’s fears about being sick leading to violence against those who report illness. It’s through nuanced and ongoing storytelling that these irrational and emotional aspects can be exposed and understood, creating a reaction across large audiences that can change social norms. Shows like Zoukoutap create a movement of people who realize that it’s not in anyone’s interest to allow these behaviors, mobilizing broad-based change.

“We, of course, make the episodes and materials entertaining to listen to because they should draw people back episode after episode, but each episode clearly promotes something that has to be taken very seriously,” says Christina Guérin, PMC-Haiti’s Resident Representative. “This is the magic of storytelling. People are diverse and textured and so these stories reflect our good, our bad, our light-hearted, and the most serious.”

Though times are challenging, the PMC global team is dedicated to leveraging expertise and preexisting platforms to drive dramatic change for the most vulnerable populations. For more than 20 years, PMC has worked to improve the lives of those most impacted by gender inequality, population growth, and environmental degradation. PMC is working closely with institutional funders and multilateral agencies to understand global priorities and deliver information in powerful ways that helps minimize COVID-19’s toll around the globe.

“Under these extremely stressful conditions, PMC staff around the world are doing heroic work, reaching millions of people who trust and depend upon PMC for accurate information,” says Ryerson. “I’m proud to work with this team. We will get through this pandemic together.” You can see PMC’s President and Founder’s message about COVID-19 here.

Attachments

Missie Thurston
Population Media Center
802-985-8156 ext. 209
mthurston@populationmedia.org



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