Aussie Diplomat says information is key to combat virus

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 13 August 2020, 8:00AM

“Information is key” in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

That's the opinion of Australia's High Commissioner, Sara Moriarty, who says “the deeper the information, the more we can share, the more trust we build.”

Speaking at the opening of the COVID-19 Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) Awareness Workshop on Wednesday, Ms. Moriarty was quoting Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nick Coatsworth when he spoke in a press conference about COVID-19 only days ago.

“Ensuring that members of the public have timely, accurate and credible information enables them to understand the risks of COVID-19, and to respond in a way that will keep themselves, their families and their communities safe, for example, by social distancing or maintaining good hygiene practices,” the High Commissioner said.

Ms. Moriarty spoke about the impact of the coronavirus around the world. 

"In Australia, as across the world, including here in Samoa, COVID-19 has changed our way of life. Households, businesses, communities and industry sectors have all been severely affected by this pandemic crisi,” she said.

 “At times of such crisis, the relationships between the Government, the media and the public become increasingly important – each relying on the other to gain an understanding of what is going on, influencing perceptions of the situation and in shaping responses.”

Ms. Moriarty said she knows many “are rightly concerned about the current situation in Victoria.

"I think we can fairly say that our Government’s national response to COVID-19 has been targeted, transparent and focused, with strong cooperation between government and institutions at all levels.”

The Government has kept Australians informed, and consulted publicly on the design and implementation of response measures, she added.

“Australians have supported this approach, the vast majority of the time complying with restrictions. This has kept our country safe. Similarly, information about the activities and arrangements the Government is making in response to COVID-19 can build public confidence in the capacity of health services to manage the response,” said Ms. Moriarty.

“Conversely, the absence of information from credible sources, such as Government, creates space for other actors to spread misinformation. Governments and media need to act together to combat misinformation. 

"This is the context for why the Australian Government partnered with PACMAS to produce the ‘Pacific Infodemic Tracker’. This tracker highlights positive and negative trends on social media and information gaps, to help Pacific media and communicators to develop stories on COVID-19 that will engage audiences.”

Independent and robust media institutions, she said, play a vital role in keeping the community informed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Media institutions also have a responsibility. As Australian journalist Stan Grant wrote in a piece in The Conversation, their responsibility is to ‘inform not inflame.’ Journalists are often trained to rely on drama, to highlight conflict. Grant says we need ‘less crisis and more context […] the public needs no reminding this is serious’,” said Moriarty.

“Like anything in a crisis, disseminating information is not easy and there are many challenges. For instance, it is challenging to balance the early release of public messages with accuracy of information in a situation of uncertainty that is rapidly changing, or to balance the release of information with the privacy of those involved.”

Despite the challenges, Governments and the media must continue to work together, she said.

“Transparency, cooperation and mutual trust have been essential to our pandemic response, and will remain so for our recovery,” she said.

Nine media organizations are participating in the workshop being held at the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel in Sogi.


By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 13 August 2020, 8:00AM

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