It’s time for the media to shine a light on the world’s most vulnerable communities as they fight this pandemic
Image: Mercy Corps adapting its humanitarian aid programming, like this registration for emergency cash distribution in the DRC, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Douglas Alexander, Christina Lamb, Simon O’Connell, Ed Williams, Ceri Thomas and Anne-Marie Tomchak
It is understandable how in these complex and challenging times, as we’re asked to socially distance and self-isolate, that there’s a tendency to look inwards. However, now more than ever, we should be connecting with others around the world who are also facing the same threat. The COVID-19 pandemic transcends borders, it is a global crisis and if we are to overcome it, the solutions have to be local, global and collective.
Journalists and media outlets in the UK are already playing an important role in providing vital information to an anxious public. In the months ahead they will also have a key role to play in finding and communicating these solutions, and in telling our shared stories.
While it’s understandable that we are all worried about our own families, communities and countries in these difficult times, we know from our experience that people in fragile and conflict-affected places will be disproportionally affected by this virus. Vulnerable communities around the world already experiencing humanitarian need due to violence, poverty, food insecurity and extreme weather are more susceptible and for many, COVID-19 is just the latest in a long line of emergencies threatening their families, their lives and their livelihoods.
Media coverage of coronavirus needs to expand beyond domestic news
At a time when people are crying out for social connection, when we are seeing news consumption levels rise exponentially, with almost half of the population saying they are watching more television and one-third reading more newspaper content, there’s now a great need for coverage to expand beyond domestic news, share knowledge and connect the local with the global like never before. For a country as outward-looking and internationalist as the UK, there’s a responsibility on all of our media outlets and news correspondents to step up and recognise the importance of better international coverage in the weeks ahead.
We welcome the BBC’s (the most trusted brand on the coronavirus) new Africa tracker, launched last week and the Independent’s coverage of an Imperial College report looking at the potential impact on lower-income countries. Can we have more of these?
The world is facing a never-before-seen event on a global scale. Younger people are becoming more engaged with media, with a 60% increase in streaming among people aged 18 to 24 and a 49% increase in live TV viewing. It is our responsibility to provide them with the full global picture, and the harsh reality is that this pandemic is going to hit other, more fragile countries much, much harder.
Let’s celebrate some of the stories of heroic efforts being made around the world
As we rightly see the celebration of so many of our local heroes and inspiring stories of community spirit and volunteerism, there are also incredible stories of people in places like Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan who are adapting quickly in the face of huge constraints to ensure people have the urgent supplies they need. Health, water and sanitation teams pivoting to protect communities against COVID-19, examples of social distancing in refugee camps, and innovative remote management of ongoing emergency distributions.
As well as informing and awareness-raising, the media can also play a crucial role in demonstrating our inter-connectedness and global responsibilities – which include reminding the UK Government of its ongoing commitment to help vulnerable communities around the world, upholding the values of humanity and compassion, and showing us that we are more dependent on each other than ever before.
Our message to the UK media
To the UK media, we ask: help us shine a light on the most vulnerable communities battling this outbreak, partner with us to tell the stories that connect us all – of teams striving to respond to the world’s greatest needs in some of the world’s most challenging places and against all odds, and support us to share solutions, so that together we can beat this, for everyone.
Douglas Alexander, Former Secretary of State for International Development
Christina Lamb, Sunday Times Chief Foreign Correspondent
Simon O’Connell, Executive Director for Mercy Corps
Ceri Thomas, Tortoise News
Anne-Marie Tomchak, Journalist and broadcaster
Ed Williams, President and CEO of Edelman EMEA
Douglas, Christina, Ceri, Anne-Marie and Ed are all members of Mercy Corps’ European Leadership Council