According to the World Health Organization, coronavirus disease (COVID – 19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Ghana has not been left out as it’s almost been a year since the government of Ghana recorded its first case. The confirmation of the country’s first two cases was contained in a press release from the government agency responsible for health, the Ministry of Health, dated March 12, 2020. Ever since those two cases emerged, the country has never been the same as stakeholders and the entire citizenry are still doing their possible best to mitigate the rate of infections. The adoption of the slogan ‘we are not in normal times’ clearly indicates that indeed the country has never been the same. This paper seeks to embrace the scholarship of development communication by analyzing the implications of the COVID – 19 pandemic on development communication practice in Ghana
Development communication engages stakeholders and policy makers, establishes conducive environments, assesses risks and opportunities and promotes information exchange to create positive and sustainable social change Mefalopulous, (2008). During the COVID-19 pandemic, development communication has been widely used to educate people on ways to stay safe from the virus. COVID-19 safety measures such as the imposition of lockdowns, ban on social gatherings, adhering to physical distancing among others have largely affected devcom practice.
Development communication practice is a clinical way of communication research, aimed at creating positive and reliable as well as sustainable change in societies Bau (2016). This can be achieved by way of churning out compelling and adequate information through the most appropriate media to a well-defined group of audience so as to realize sustainable development in societies. The practice of development communication varies since there are many areas of disciplines within communication including; health communication, international communication, globalization and development journalism Melkote &Steeves (2015).
Safety measures issued by the government includes wearing of nose and face masks, washing hands regularly and using sanitizers as well as reducing social gatherings. Emphasis on restricting of individual movements and reducing social gatherings. Development communication, traditionally (face to face) involves the movement of practitioners from one place to the other depending on the location of the target group and audience. The major implication of the pandemic is that, it has to a large extent, influenced the choice in media for practitioners to use in reaching their target group (s). The intended audience dictate the media used by development communication practitioners. Analysis of the implications will be premised on the theory of digital mediated communication and the theory of digital divide.
Tomei (2008), describes digital/ computer mediated communication as communication processes that are established and controlled by technology tools and applications such as emails, telephone conversations and videoconferencing. Looking at the aforementioned restrictions due to the pandemic, the mobility of development communication practitioners will be restricted because all practitioners must adhere to the safety protocols in order to safeguard their lives as well as the lives of their audiences. This implication is limited to practitioners who engage in face to face communication only. The pandemic has alternated the mode of communication, that is, from face to face to virtual communication. This is not to suggest that virtual communication emerged as a result of the pandemic. This form of communication has been in existence. Although development communication practice can take the form of communication technologies like social media, the traditional methods of communication such as the use of newspapers, radio and television and face to face was the most commonly used media in Ghana.
In the process of applying technological mediated communication, most audiences of development communication practitioners are either partially or completely left out depending on the geographic, literacy levels and economic ability of audiences. There is an information gap that exists between individuals who have access to technology and others who do not have access. This information gap has been defined by Martin (2011) as the gap between those who are able to benefit from the digital age and those who are not. He indicated that digital divide will lead to people being marginalized and disadvantaged. For example, a development communication practitioner who has the people of Mion District in the Northern region of Ghana might not be able to fulfill his duties due to the imposition of restrictions on human movement. In the absence of face to face communication, digital mediated communication is the option available to development communication practitioners, but as a result of the level of illiteracy and economic inability of the people of Mion to access digital technology, they will be left out in the development information. In addition, the location of Mion in the northern region of Ghana is another cause of worry to the situation. The region is one of the most developmentally marginalized regions in Ghana and thus lags behind in issues of social change. The use of technological devices and applications like Zoom, laptops, WhatsApp among others is not commonly used as compared to a region like Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Admittedly, it is possible for someone in Mion District to be more digitally educated than someone in Accra which is an urban area. Aside the audiences been left out from the information, most development communication practitioners are still finding it difficult to use applications like Zoom, Google meet among others. This can lead to the disruption of the development communication process as there might be breakages in the information process.
In summary, many hold the opinion that the pandemic has come to stay with humanity and thus we must learn to cope with it. It is therefore prudent for states as well as individuals to minimize the information gap and inequalities that exists within communities so as to ensure equity in development. Also, development communication practitioners need to sit up in their usage of technology in communicating to ensure efficient dissemination of information.
By Lukman Mahami Adams | Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow 2021.