[OPINION] South Africa’s mass media have stayed well on top of the coronavirus story with TV, radio, print and online platforms giving massive amounts of time, space and effort to keeping the public informed.
But they have almost completely ignored any form of social responsibility. They’re telling the story of the crisis but not contributing to a solution.
There is no question that Covid-19 represents a healthcare and economic disaster of mammoth proportions. And while the consumer might well be informed by the mass media, far too many citizens of our country remain cynical and apathetic.
It’s the old story of rampant alcohol abuse, road deaths and heart disease – nobody really takes them seriously until they are personally affected.
Too many South Africans are still convinced that this virus only affects other people. The United States has proved beyond doubt that when government and vast numbers of consumers refuse to take the pandemic seriously – cases escalate to frightening levels. Yet, so many Americans still believe that it won’t happen to them.
We are lucky in South Africa that our government is taking it all very seriously. As do the mass media.
However, there is still something government can’t do and that the mass media could do quite easily.
And that is to use their pages, broadcast time and online platforms to run shock campaigns in an effort to jolt denialists into action.
Right now media consumption in South Africa has increased to quite an extent. Which means that more and more citizens are watching, listening and reading the news – if only to find out when they can go partying again or start smoking.
This captive and growing audience is ripe for a hard hitting campaign. But, not just telling everyone to wash their hands, wear masks, use sanitiser and observe social distancing. That’s important but it isn’t going to persuade any die-hard denialists to change their habits, beliefs or prejudices.
The current crisis demands tougher action. Campaigns that make people extremely uncomfortable, and should focus on the horror of dying from this virus in graphic detail.
And to hell with the Mother Grundies who complain about being offended. South Africa does not have time to pander to pettiness. Those who are openly ignoring the dangers of Covid-19 are not only putting themselves at risk but everyone with whom they come into contact.
They need to be taken by the lapels and shaken.
For example, right now the taxi industry is largely ignoring government regulations and in so doing putting the safety and health of their passengers on the back burner in favour of profit and survival.
But, there are still a number of taxi drivers who are sticking to the regulations because of the fear of what Covid-19 might hold for them.
Hard hitting media campaigns need to get into the minds of their peers who continue to flaunt the law. That should be the starting point of any mass media campaign strategy.
To produce something so hard-hitting it is going to make taxi drivers think twice about packing passengers into their vehicles like sardines.
And if it works for hard-headed taxi drivers it should work for pretty much every other denialist.
Shock tactics work. History has shown that they do.
Our mass media need to step up to the plate and use its enormous communication resources to shock apathetic South Africans into action.
Chris Moerdyk (@chrismoerdyk) is a marketing analyst and advisor and owner of Moerdyk Marketing with many years of experience in marketing and the media as well as serving as non-executive director and chairman of companies.
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