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Swine flu and the importance of effective communication during crisis

11-August-2009
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Swine flu and the importance of effective communication during crisis

Television channels and newspapers have got their breaking news and top headlines in what has become the ‘dreaded swine flu’. There is a lot of information floating around, but the relevant question is – are these news pieces just adding to the pandemonium that any half-baked truth causes or does adding a bit of pressure good to get authorities take notice and take some proactive measures? This is where effective communication can play a crucial role in dispelling misconceptions and putting the public at ease with consistent information.

In the opinion of Arvind Sharma, Chairman and CEO, Leo Burnett, sometimes a bit of panic is required to make people aware, especially in a case like swine flu, where this pressure will lead to the Government and the medical fraternity acting at a quicker pace. He said, “I think I will applaud the media in this case in building awareness among the people. We may be a bit impatient to see the governing bodies act fast, but we must also remember that India is the same country where till a few years back, even diseases like malaria and diarrhoea were seen to be fatal as our medical facilities were woefully inadequate.”

This sentiment, however, is not echoed by many. KS (Chax) Chakravarthy, NCD, DraftFCB Ulka, felt that the communication that was coming out on the disease was a testimony of the failure of the media, probably for the nth time. He said, “I don’t think I will blame the Government, but the media, especially the news channels who report without any conscience. There is probably zero information or half truths that have been shown on news channels, which is multiplying the problem and adding to the frenzy.”

In fact, Raj Kurup, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, Creativeland Asia, who was in London when panic broke there on swine flu, sees that this is the beginning of what played out there. He said, “It is too nascent right now, but the requirement right now is to spell the guidelines for the public so that their fear is under control. We should not get into criticizing, but pass around information on the dos and don’ts. We have been doing this within our office, where we have highlighted what must be done during such a crisis situation to keep it under check.”

“The objective of communication is to prevent rumours and misconceptions. Unfortunately, there is a trend towards sensationalising by picking up stray headlines, which leads to confusing the public,” stressed Thomas Xavier, Chairman and NCD, Orchard Advertising.

Xavier offers a solution by coming out with communication like FAQs to preempt answers that one is looking for, such as causes, precautions, etc. He added, “In fact, I think newspapers should provide support to the Government in carrying such messages that are consistent everywhere and dispel all misconceptions. This will prevent loose talk and help in the correct dissemination of information, which actually comes down to following some basic precautions. Also, the support will help the Government in saving needless cost required for such communication, which can be instead used for healthcare, which is the prerogative now. There is the disease and then there is the psychology around the disease, the need is capture that and put things in perspective.”

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