Haryana: Radio raises Covid awareness, fights misinformation in Nuh

Published in Times of India on 20 April 2020
NUH: In this age of technology, it is the humble wireless that’s proving to be the vaccine against misinformation in Nuh, which has reported 57 cases of Covid-19 so far.

NUH: In this age of technology, it is the humble wireless that’s proving to be the vaccine against misinformation in Nuh, which has reported 57 cases of Covid-19 so far. Here, it is the community radio that is playing a part in keeping the residents informed.

As early as February 6, the senior medical officer of Nuh had broadcast an awareness message on Covid-19 through Alfaz-e-Mewat (FM 107.8). This station, serving 225 villages, regularly relays information received from the district collector, chief medical officer and other government functionaries to listeners.

“We are regularly updating our listeners about announcements by the district administration. We disseminate only official announcements and refrain from airing information from alternate sources,” shares Pooja Murada, founder, Alfaz-e-Mewat, and director, communications, at Sehgal Foundation, a charitable trust.

“We review the situation daily and follow the advice of authorities. Our focus is on providing daily updates regarding the lockdown, government initiatives, and all the essential services that are available,” she adds.
Part of Alfaz-e-Mewat’s special programming schedule is a show called ‘Savdhaan’, which cautions people from being misled by fake news about Covid-19.

Radio Mewat is also guiding and enlightening its listeners, scattered across 168 villages and making up a population of more than 5.5 lakh, through sharing credible health intelligence, and offering counselling.

Indeed, Radio Mewat’s role has expanded post-March 24, says founder Archana Kapoor. “In a place where literacy level is low and the few editions of print wind up in no time, our responsibility towards the community increases. We realised that the problem may be global but the spread and solutions to prevent the same had to be local and community-driven. Thus, the importance of a hyper-local media became more relevant,” she told TOI.

“We are sending out regular bulletins and working in close coordination with the district administration, which is using Radio Mewat to reach out,” she added.

For instance, villagers can learn about access to facilities, when shops open and close, and availability of PDS. Any information must be reliable yet conveyed in a manner that does not create panic. “It has to be realistic but not alarmist.”

Acknowledging the worth of community radio as a trustworthy news source, the district administration has issued passes for the whole team, with reporters and radio jockeys given the go-ahead to operate out of the Radio Mewat office. Post-lockdown, the station is spending more hours on air, using some of that time to update listeners with information it has collated from the ministry of health and family welfare, and from AIIMS, Delhi, and PGIMER, Chandigarh.

Trusting that voice

Just as the lockdown was announced, Alfaz-e-Mewat debuted a programme, ‘21 Din, 21 Baatein’ (21 days, 21 topics), which included a message by an expert and poems that stressed on (among other themes) frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, the benefits of yoga, and the value of ‘self-learning’ in spreading positivity.

The station’s ‘Aaj ka Hero’ shines a light on personal accounts in which a change in behaviour aided protection from the virus, both for the individual and others around. Besides, listeners can tune in to discussions on matters relating to the coronavirus, or, even, folk songs on social isolation, because nothing gets a public message across better than when it is set to music, or couched as a jingle.

For many in these communities, radio is the sole source of dependable information. “Due to high illiteracy in our area, only oral means can ensure effective communication,” says Fakat Hussain, an RJ at Alfaz-e-Mewat.

Meanwhile, Radio Mewat has increased its live programming, fielding calls to assure the community on, for example, permissions for harvesting crops. It is also taking pains to simplify the terms of the day, such as quarantine, social distancing and self-isolation. Further, the station has started advising its listener groups, comprising women, to make face masks at home as per World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.

Lessons for kids, guidance for women

As luck would have it, the Radio Mewat team was ready for one contingency — the closing of schools. So, even if students are missing out on classes, they’re not losing out on daily lessons, which they receive via radio tuitions, a concept the station had pioneered, through CSR, back in 2017. There is a flip side to the lockdown, and that is an increase in incidences of domestic violence. According to the National Commission for Women (NCW), the number of such complaints has doubled in the past month. But here, too, Radio Mewat can call on experience. Its popular series on gender violence, ‘Hinsa ko No’, is being aired regularly, some two years after its first episode.

“We have also doubled up as a helpline in view of the peaking of domestic violence cases,” reveals Kapoor, adding that a Gurgaon psychologist is helping the station.