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Sri Lanka Army

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27th May 2021 22:15:35 Hours

Head, NOCPCO Underlines Need for an "Ethical & Reliable Media Culture" in an Emergency

General Shavendra Silva, Head, NOCPCO, Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army was one among resource personnel to the International Conference on Mass and Marketing Communications in the time of COVID-19 of the European Centre for Peace and Development UN University for Peace (ECPD), held this afternoon (27) through virtual zoom platforms.

This Conference aimed to direct the focus to the biggest challenge that all are facing now, the fight against COVID-19 and expected to analyze and discuss the marketing and mass communications against Coronavirus, in order to define which are the best and the most suitable in this situation, so said the ECPD organizers.

General Shavendra Silva presenting a plethora of Media issues that relate to an emergency, like the COVID-19 spread queried about "negatively changing mindset of the general public in an emergency, like today." "It is vital therefore to have an ethical and reliable media culture for any country. Thus, media can be considered a double-edged weapon that can calm the populace, encourage them for a positive response, or terrorize the populace and create further chaos. In the second case, the media would be a destructive weapon since the biggest damage that can be done during a crisis is negatively changing the mindset rather than physical destruction, "he pointed out.

"It was a common experience to all the countries during the initial outbreak of COVID 19 where people trended to hate, distance or flee from the COVID 19 victims due to the fakes and exaggerated news about the deadliness of the virus. To negate this, it is vital to have an ethical and reliable media culture for any country at any time so that during a crisis, the media can engage in an organized effort to control the public emotions and control public opinion with a positive attitude. It is worth mentioning that without a positive attitude in the media, even the best efforts of strategists, experts and leaders would not have the best possible effect. Therefore, in these situations, the authorities' responsibility is to ensure that the information received by the media personal is received only through the official channel to limit the number of contradicting and confusing information reaching the public, "General Shavendra Silva opined.

The sessions, based largely on concerns, such as Advertising and PR communications against Coronavirus, Publicity in the Fight against Coronavirus, Social Nets and their Role in the Fight against Coronavirus, Fake News about the Danger of Vaccination against Coronavirus, Communicative Strategies and Approaches in Fight against Coronavirus, Main Topics about Vaccination in Social Nets and Traditional Media were shared by a dozen of reputed international scholars.

The speakers in this Conference are some of the most outstanding Russian and international professors in advertising, public relations and mass communications, as well as the leading professors in this field, including Prof. Dr. Luca Rosi, Director of the International Affairs at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy, Prof. Christo Kaftandjiev, Sofia University, Altai State University, Prof. Siniša Zarić, ECPD, University of Belgrade, Dr. Roberto Savio, Director of ECPD International Relations, Rome, Italy, Prof. Dr. Miodrag Ivanović, Professor at the ECPD UN University for Peace, Prof. Dr. Thomas Lux, Director of the „Competence Center eHealth“, University of Applied Sciences Niederrhein, Germany, Prof. Svetlana Zеnchenko, North Caucasus State University, Russia, Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Levett, Founding Dean of the Hellenic School of Public Health, Greece, Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dirk Henke, Chair of Health Economics and Health Management, University of Berlin, Germany, Prof. Dr. Miodrag Todorović, Professor at the ECPD UN University for Peace, long-standing Director of the Seychelles Ministry of Health, Seychelles and Prof. Dr. Snežana Rakić, University of Belgrade.

The virtual Conference was opened with an introductory speech by Prof. Dr. Jonathan Bradley, President of the ECPD Executive Board and Prof. Dr. Luca Rosi, Director of the International Affairs at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy. The Co-Chairs of the Conference were Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Levett, Founding Dean of the Hellenic School of Public Health, Greece, Prof. Christo Kaftandjiev, Sofia University, Altai State University, Prof. Siniša Zarić, ECPD, Belgrade University and Prof. Svetlana Zеnchenko, North Caucasus State University, Russia.

The full text of his contribution is annexed below:

"I consider it a privilege to share my thoughts on the effect of communication in this virtual seminar as the Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID 19 Sri Lanka. At the onset, let me thank European Centre for Peace and Development-University of Peace for inviting me to this pertinent and timely conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we all are aware, the media play an essential role in influencing the public opinion for any cause. It has been the primary and most successful mode of transmitting the information necessary to be known by the general public. With its indispensable importance at one hand, on the other hand at modernity, the abundant availability of printed, digital, radio, television and social media, which is cheap and the negative exploitation of the same for various purposes, adds an extra burden to the authorities in rallying around the public on one cause during a crisis, which is a vital role of the media. Therefore, as a practitioner and involved in combatting against the COVID 19, I wish to share my thoughts on why, when, and how the media need to be made positively effective during a crisis, as learned from COVID 19.

The ramification and exaggeration of situations during any crisis are prevalent phenomena in any part of the world. These ramifications can be planned sabotages or consequence of unprecedented hoaxes. In any crisis, per se COVID; the basic need is public support. Public compliance as per the guidelines issued by experts and authorities is a must in controlling a pandemic, like COVID 19. In the Sri Lankan case, our strategy for the COVID 19 pandemic was prepared in collaboration with all stakeholders of health, military, law enforcing, public health, social and economic expertise in the country. However, we were well aware that the strategy could belie a jumble depending upon this public compliance. Thus, it was a dire need to indoctrinate the necessity of compliance with the instruction issued by authorities into the society. Amidst a plethora of misinformation, especially on the internet during the initial stage of the COVID 19 outbreak, it was a must to regulate national and private as well as social media platforms extensively in this regard.

In digging to the facts, to find why the misinformation was preferred over information, it can be seen that, when we leave an information gap about the pandemic, how it behaves, how to prevent it or what is to be done, especially in the initial stage where the entire world had no clear idea of the pandemic, the anxiety created by the information gap, drives the population to fill that gap from the most accessible and available mean; usually the internet or social media.

In the initial stage of COVID 19, we experienced that many views, ramifications, and exaggerations of the virus were circulating through media. This virus was a novel to the world and most of the information available in the information platform were perceived and imagined information from movies, video games or disasters, not related at all to COVID 19. Also, there were accurate and vital information from many authenticated and unauthenticated sources. However, there was no guarantee whether these pieces of information were constructive or destructive. Therefore, the most essential thing in a novel crisis, like COVID 19 is to fill the information gap of the public before any adversary can exploit it.

The effect of the media at the initial stage of crises are substantial, as this is the stage where there is a considerable gap of the necessary information. Ramification created by misinformation was a common problem to all the countries during the initial stage of the COVID 19 pandemic. Rather than scientific explanations, the public liked to know the real-time situation, so that they could ascertain the gravity of the issue. Therefore, at the beginning of any crisis, it is vital to regulate, police, control, or even suppress the adversary media effects. However, in a democratic society, the authorities must be cautious and suppress only media platforms with real adverse effects. Moreover, it should be justifiable as well. In an intermediate phase of a crisis, with sufficient understanding of the facts, related to crises, a liberal policy can be adopted towards the media so that balance and analytical information are available to the society. This is the phase where scientific, methodical and analytical information can be passed to the society. During the post-crisis period again, the media has to be closely monitored to ensure the correct information is passed to the public on the post-conflict plan.

Public opinion is always disturbed during any crises. During COVID 19 crisis, the public and even the media changed their behaviour by withholding disagreement, criticism, or exaggerations. Also, there were situations where media tend to seek its popularity, promoting the media brand and compete with different media companies rather than focusing on what and what not to be given to the public. Thus, media can be considered a double-edged weapon that can calm the populace, encourage them for a positive response, or terrorize the populace and create further chaos. In the second case, the media would be a destructive weapon since the biggest damage that can be done during a crisis is negatively changing the mindset rather than physical destruction. It was a common experience to all the countries during the initial outbreak of COVID 19 where people trended to hate, distance or flee from the COVID 19 victims due to the fakes and exaggerated news about the deadliness of the virus. To negate this, it is vital to have an ethical and reliable media culture for any country at any time so that during a crisis, the media can engage in an organized effort to control the public emotions and control public opinion with a positive attitude. It is worth mentioning that without a positive attitude in the media, even the best efforts of strategists, experts and leaders would not have the best possible effect. Therefore, in these situations, the authorities' responsibility is to ensure that the information received by the media personnel is received only through the official channel to limit the number of contradicting and confusing information reaching the public.

In addition to the points stressed so far, it is worth identifying what other adverse effects created by mismanagement of media causes as learned from during the COVID 19 crisis worldwide before embarking on knowing how it can be made effective.

First, it may create unawareness of the general populace of the strategy, causing them to seek unprecedented means as saviours. Second, it may interrupt the flow of essential services delaying the essentials to reach the actual victims. Third, frequent mismatching information in media platforms loses the media's confidence among the public and loses the opportunity to disseminate necessary information even. Fourth, creating parties and groups with conflicting interest among the society due to lack of understanding. Fifth, victims can lose hope and confidence in authorities and seek for third party help. Sixth, allowing room for growing anxiety, creating chaos, unrest or destructive rumours about the government mechanism. Seventh, creating a feeling of insecurity among the populace. Eighth, undermining the crisis control mechanism. Ninth, increasing the psychological issues within the victims and vulnerable communities. Lastly, but most critically, exploitation of the situation by adversaries for unethical purposes.

With that, I would like to share some thoughts with this audience, how an influential media culture could be created to manage the crises. To understand what is to be done on creating effective media during a crisis, let me explain five effects that should be at the forefront in any media strategy in a crisis as key takeaways of my presentation.

First, 'support and protect' the loyal and friendly media partners. In this regard, it is essential to establish friendly relationships with your local media agencies even before a crisis. They can be appropriately respected and provided with correct and updated information and facilities to access the information sources swiftly. The strategist must be able to negotiate terms with the media to reap mutual benefits.

Second, suppress the media misinformation. In a crisis, it is essential to suppress misinformation since the neglecting of the same could create irreversible damage. One must not misunderstand this as preventing the right to information in a democratic society. The only way to suppress the misinformation is by educating the populace of the correct information. However, if you leave the information with media misinformation, the population will have choices, and this choice can be due to many reasons, such as easiness, comfort or personal benefit. Therefore, we must not allow misinformation to be a common choice of the general public.

Third, discredit the media attempting to get the undue advantage of the situation. To achieve this, it is necessary to provide information to many media platforms with authenticated information simultaneously. By this, the platforms attempting to create adverse effects will be automatically discredited by the public. Also, it is essential to report your own bad news. If you think the media might find out something that you are trying to hide, you are liable to be discredited. Therefore, a compromise is required to strike a balance between what the media wants and what you want from the media to preserve the own credibility.

Fourth, retain the trustworthiness of your media relationship. During a crisis, it is important to be available for the media around the clock. This will build trust with the media personnel and allow the media platforms to get the facts for their deadlines. Never provide mere answers to the questions raised by media personnel. Instead, provide them with credible solutions. It is advisable to disseminate the most necessary information to the media swiftly so that media can change the mindset of the public as desired by the authorities. It is also necessary not to speculate, and we must never hesitate to correct the media personnel when they report incorrect information.

The fifth and most important is to exploit all possible media means. It is essential during the crisis to utilize social listening to be ahead of the information battle. It is worth understanding that not every media is accessible to all, and not every media is preferred by all. IT may be handy to have senses to know the different media platforms preferred by different social profiles since these different people would like to see information only from the platform they prefer. Leaving some of the media platforms unexploited will leave a considerable group of the population without correct information. Thus, the media strategy should seek to access and exploit all these media means in order to leave no space for misinformation. At modernity, the younger generation prefers social media rather than television and newspapers. Therefore, the strategy must adequately cover these aspects.

Last but not least, let me once again thank the European Centre for Peace and Development University for Peace for inviting me as a resource person for this seminar. Also, my sincere thank goes to panelists, participants and supporting staff of this seminar. I wish you all, health wealth and the best of luck in all your future endeavours. Thank you, and have a pleasant day."