Academics Feature in Croakey Health Media Twitter Festival

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Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) academics Professor Eliza Govender and Professor Sarah Gibson featured at the CroakeyREAD Twitter Festival on Pandemic Communications which offered opportunities to reflect on lessons – locally, nationally and globally- about communications in the COVID-19 pandemic and how they can be used to help inform and improve future efforts.

The academics spoke about chapters they wrote in the book Communicating COVID-19 Interdisciplinary Perspectives.

Govender co-edited the book with Australians Dr Monique Lewis of Griffith University and Dr Kate Holland of the University of Canberra.

The book explores communication during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Featuring the work of leading communication scholars from around the world, it offers insights and analyses into how individuals, organisations, communities, and nations have grappled with understanding and responding to the pandemic.

Govender’s chapter is titled: Tailoring COVID-19 Communication for Local South African Contexts: Challenges, Contradictions, and Consequences of a Dominant Public Health Response. She offers a reflective discussion of these theoretical perspectives in the context of the initial phases of the South Africa lockdown. ‘At the onset of the pandemic, COVID-19 communication stringently adopted a public health strategy, but there remains an urgency to indigenise global health responses through the lens of local knowledge, cultural contexts and challenges emanating from behavioural change complexities,’ she said.

Govender argues that ‘COVID-19 prevention strategies are likely to yield better health outcomes when community voices and dialogue are integrated as part of a comprehensive preventive approach for South African communities.’

Gibson’s chapter is titled: South Africa Laughs in the Face of Coronavirus: Presidential Addresses, Face Masks and Memetic Humour in South Africa, in which she focuses on how memetic media has been used by South Africans to respond to the coronavirus, and specifically to the addresses made by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

‘At a time when the President was introducing an unprecedented national lockdown which included regulations on physical mobilities of people, goods, and transport at the same time as encouraging social distancing, these memes were powerful in their ability to create a shared sense of self and purpose amongst South African citizens online,’ explained Gibson.

In her contribution to the book, Gibson further explores how South African citizens are using humour as a nation-building strategy in these uncertain times.

The book also examines the role of journalists and news media in constructing meanings about the pandemic, with chapters focusing on public interest journalism, health workers and imagined audiences in COVID-19 news. It considers public health responses in different countries, with chapters examining community-driven approaches, communication strategies of governments and political leaders, public health advocacy, and pandemic inequalities.

The role of digital media and technology is unravelled, including social media sharing of misinformation and memetic humour, crowd-sourcing initiatives, the use of data in modelling, tracking and tracing, and strategies for managing uncertainties created in a pandemic.

The book will be published soon by Palgrave Macmillan.

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