Reliable information in local minority languages. This is the remedy used by the community media in Chin state to calm unrest and to make people protect themselves and others. This is a unique case that shows how media that is produced for and owned by local communities can have a crucial impact on changing risk behavior.
On March 23 the first case of COVID-19 infection in Myanmar was confirmed in Chin state, one of the poorest regions of the country. A young man had returned from the US to marry his fiancé in Tedim Township, more than 500 miles from the commercial capital Yangon. But the marriage had to be postponed as it turned out that he was infected by COVID-19 and had to put himself into quarantine.
“People got shocked from the outbreak. They behaved irrationally and started to buy rice in panic. Only when the local community radio station informed that there was no need for worry, that there would be enough rice for everyone, even if the roads got blocked, the situation calmed down, says Letyar Tun”, IMS-Fojo programme officer and community media specialist, who is working closely with the local community media stations.
He explains that people in these remote villages need to get information in their own language to understand the health information properly. Most people know Burmese (the official majority language) but when information is complex, like with COVID-19, it is too difficult for them to grasp.
“Information from the Ministry of Health got translated and distributed, thanks to the volunteers at the community radio stations. They were prepared and had already translated some materials, while the local authorities did not even have such information to share.”
In general, the ethnic minorities have limited access to information in their own language. Some print papers are in local minority languages, but when the roads got blocked these papers did not reach the villagers. Bloggers are another source for news, but not necessarily a reliable one, according to IMS-Fojo’s monitoring.
“We monitor the local media and can see that some bloggers are using the COVID-19 to promote their own channels in a way that is not trustworthy”, says Letyar Tun.
For the community media, on the other hand, the trust has increased among the locals. In Falam Township, audio material on COVID-19 was posted on their Facebook page. (Facebook is the main platform of distribution for the community radio stations, in anticipation of licensing and subsequent broadcasting via transmittors). People listened and started to respond. The village was closed down, and people were asked to stay home and to wash their hands.
So far, no more cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Chin state, which indicates that the measures taken have slowed down the spread of the virus. The fact that the community radio stations have had an important part in the preventive measures are showing that this kind of media are essential for communities and make them more resilient, especially in poor, isolated areas like Chin state. For now, Letyar Tun and his colleagues continue to support the community radio stations in any way they can.
“We have asked the volunteers what they need most urgently. They want hand sanitizer and masks, to protect themselves and to be able to keep working. We will send it off to them tomorrow.”
- Community media is a new phenomenon in Myanmar. The Broadcast Law from 2016 opened up for community media, but the by-law that is supposed to set the rules for licensing etc. is still not in place.
- The community radios stations in Falam (Falam Community Media FCM) and Tedim (Phulva FM) are pilot projects, which have been set up with support from a programme managed by International Media Support (IMS) and Fojo Media Institute (Fojo) with funding from Sida and the Norwegian Embassy in Yangon.