The role of media in a crisis


On a day when Estonian society is facing major closure and isolation lasting at least a month, it is appropriate to look at the role of the media as a stabilizer and provider of security.

Since people are forced to work and study at home, they are deprived of their daily direct communication, cultural consumption, sports, social pastime, classroom learning and much more.

They will be replaced by mediated communication and information via electronic channels, where messages are strongly influenced by the specifics of the channel.

People’s media consumption is growing, which in turn promotes the emergence of new channels. On the other hand, the content of the media has changed significantly during the pandemic, as, for example, major sporting events, concerts and festivals have been canceled. Paradoxically, media consumption is setting records, while turnover and profit figures are falling.

A greater presence from the media also places additional responsibility on media creators on its content.

In a situation where direct communication has decreased and mediated communication has increased, the media can influence people’s mood in both positive and negative directions. There are more serious consequences than before, inciting panic, stigmatizing someone in the community, but also publishing wrongly chosen emotions.

Ofcom is the media regulator in the United Kingdom. For example, it has highlighted the role of the press and journalists as intermediaries for information during the crisis. They have punished a number of media outlets in the UK that have spread conspiracy theories, increased public anxiety or publicly questioned measures to prevent the virus from spreading.

In March 2020, Ofcom brought to the attention of all media channels the fact that, although the dissemination of accurate and up-to-date information is essential during a pandemic, the potential harm of such material must be assessed; giving the example of viral health or medical advice on the coronavirus that could be harmful.

The meaningful role of the media in stabilizing society in the United Kingdom is very thought out. There are guidelines formulated by the BBC on how the media can help people.

The guidelines outline the possibilities of the media:

  • To provide consumers with vital information on ensuring safety and preventing the spread of the coronavirus;
  • Keep the people informed about available support services;
  • Combat dangerous rumors and misinformation;
  • To put pressure on authorities to fulfill their responsibilities and protect society;
  • Provide an output source for at-risk groups to highlight their concerns and needs, and encourage them to raise questions and seek answers;
  • Reassure people and motivate them to help themselves and others.

However, the BBC itself has set the greatest example for the media, formulating in May 2020 actions for the following year on how to help society during the crisis. The planning of their activities is clearly focused on the fact that people most probably will be locked up in their homes over the next year and will therefore seek greater contact with the world through the media.

The BBC has formulated its mission to provide information, education and entertainment to its audiences, stating that:

  • The audience needs reliable news and information that is free of charge, clear of misinformation and propaganda, in order to better understand the content of the information;
  • People in the UK are looking for advice, teaching and support to deal with the impact of the crisis on their lives and education when schools are closed.
  • When life is complex, stressful and challenging, the role of the public service is to entertain the people and provide laughter, an escape from everyday worries and access to art and culture;
  • Bringing people together and providing a common space for communities to interact in times of national emergency is an essential obligation.

All of this seeks to replace those parts of everyday life that has been stolen by isolation. In addition, efforts are made to provide output possibilities and support to entertainers who have been deprived of their jobs by the pandemic.

For example, several other publications have launched information collections that provide a comprehensive overview of all of the various areas related to the virus.

In the spring of 2020, the Estonian private media started offering support to people affected by the coronavirus pandemic by removing the pay for stories blocking on stories about the virus. As of today, it is back there again.

In the spring of 2021, Delfi, together with the Video Learning initiative, launched a new online learning environment. On Thursday, when the larger restrictions came into force, Postimees freed all its web content from restrictions for the day.

Time will tell how the media will see their role in the next month.

Photos: Michael Mueller / Flickr / CC, screenshot from BBC guide