Risk Communication and Media in Pandemics

Risk Communication and Media in Pandemics

Hülya Şirin, Seçil Özkan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6825-5.ch009
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Pandemics as global crises affect our daily routines and practices nowadays. On 11 March 2020, WHO announced the COVID-19 as a pandemic. As the COVID-19 is a communicable disease, public health practices constitute the major preventive mechanism as primary protection besides treatment. Risk communication is essential for public awareness, preventive measures, and containing the outbreak during the pandemic. In a broader aspect, “crisis and risk communication” corresponds to a greater frame that consists of urgent crisis communication, empowering the decision-making process, and building a communication network between the experts and the common. The media plays an important role in conveying information amongst the risk communication experts, administrators, and the common. Pandemic is a dynamic period. In this period, changes are possible in human perception, sensitivity levels, and behaviors. Uncertainty is present in this course. To overcome this uncertainty, correct risk communication with media collaboration is essential.
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Risk And Risk Perception

Risk is the combination of the possibility of a dangerous event or exposure befalling and the degree of severity of the health deterioration that the event or exposure may cause. For public health emergencies, risk communication includes the range of communication capacities required through the preparedness, response and recovery phases of a serious public health event to encourage informed decision making, positive behaviour change and the maintenance of trust (Risk Communications, n.d.). One-way generic, non-contextualized information dissemination of public health risk can be dangerous and counterproductive. For experts, the risk is great when the hazard is great, and is a function of the exposure to that hazard and the vulnerability of the exposed population. For the public, the risk is great when their sense of emotional engagement is great-fear, anger, outrage (Sandman, 1988).

Risk perception is defined as perceived sensitivity (susceptibility) to a health threat. It usually consists of perceived injury/vulnerability and severity dimensions. Injury or vulnerability can be defined as the possibility of perceived impact from a health threat.

These are:

  • Perceived response activity: “What protective behaviour will help?”

  • Perceived self-sufficient response: “Am I sure I can perform the protective behaviour?”

  • The downside of the response: “What are the disadvantages of the protective behaviour?”

Risk perception and coping assessment determine the type of action used while prompting to demonstrate the behavior. An action can be adaptable and may result in not completing or reversing the recommended protective behaviors. In order for appropriate behavior to occur, perceived intensity and sensitivity response must be high with self-sufficiency, while the disadvantages of response must remain relatively low. If the perceived level of intensity and sensitivity is low, people do not view the subject as threatening and, as a result, are not inclined to show the recommended behavior. If the violence and the perceived sensitivity is high, but the response and/or self-efficacy is low, it may result in incompatible reactions (e.g., denying the existence of a threat) (de Hoog et al., 2007; Ruiter et al., 2001).

Protective behaviors shown in response to a pandemic can be divided into three groups: preventive, avoidance behaviors, and disease behavior management.

  • 1.

    Preventive behaviors include wearing masks, vaccination, and hygiene behaviors (such as washing hands, coughing, or sneezing into the arm/handkerchief, cleaning surfaces).

  • 2.

    Avoidance behaviors are practices of not entering crowded environments, not using public transport, and adapting to work within quarantine restrictions.

  • 3.

    Management of disease behavior includes adaptation to treatment (antiviral medication, etc.), seeking help from professionals, and using telephone/internet helplines.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Media: The term refers to components of the mass media communications industry, such as print media, publishing, the news media, photography, cinema, broadcasting (radio and television), and advertising.

Risk Communication: Risk communication refers to the exchange of real-time information: advice and opinions between experts and people facing threats to their health, economic or social well-being.

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