The media in times of Covid-19 with Thanuja Jayawardana 

By Dimithri Wijesinghe 

The media, traditional or otherwise, has long been recognised as a powerful force shaping how we experience the world and ourselves.

Its role becomes even more pronounced during times of crisis, as the world collectively experiences the many effects of a global pandemic, which is devastatingly not limited to health, but also a grave economic downfall. 

Considering the role of the media in such times, we reached out to veteran journalist and renowned media personality Thanuja Jayawardana to share her thoughts on how we should all be going about responsibly sharing and consuming media. 

In doing so, we posed the question of how best the media can exercise its role as a body responsible for shaping the attitudes of many, for its undoubtedly impactful presence. 

Thanuja addressed the matter in a three-pronged approach, sharing that firstly there must be a serious consideration of the capacity of the listener, stating that the level of education to whom you are communicating your information is of utmost importance. 

However, she mentioned that in a country such as ours, while literacy rates may be high when communicating via media, you must factor in the levels of common sense and practical knowledge of a population and how certain regions may perceive information differently to others. 

Therefore, first and foremost, you must speak in their language. “You must go to their level” regardless of where that level may be; that is not up for judgment, it is simply the responsibility of the media to communicate effectively, and doing so requires a deeper understanding of the capacity of those who are listening. 

Secondly, we must “heal the soul” – according to Thanuja, considering current times, there is no scenario where we can forego the consecration of mental health. “We are all depressed, we are associating the same people every day, and there is no change in our daily happenings,” she said, and so it is imperative that the mind is given assistance, be it via entertainment or speaking directly to the heart. 

The media has a responsibility to reach out to those professionals who are trained in the ways of attending to the dark crevices of people’s minds, to best help the healing and sustenance of balance and normalcy. These things are not really within the skillset of a television presenter or a news script; it must be done by someone who has experience in dealing with such matters, but it is the responsibility of the media to bring them to our attention. Thanuja shared an unfortunate story where she heard of a suicide by someone who had struggled with the stresses of the current satiation and stated that there is a common element in how everyone is feeling and it must be addressed, to help alleviate that feeling. 

Thirdly, she shared that we must educate people on the importance of learning new skills. She said: “I may not be taken seriously when I say this, but in the future, the way that the world is headed, one mustn’t settle for just one skill.” She added that it will be imperative that you broaden your horizons; it doesn’t seem as though your everyday marketing experience or banking background alone can support you in the long run, the way that the world is moving.

We also spoke to Thanuja about the presence of social media and whether it provides solace or grounds for misinformation, and according to her, it has played an important role in conveying a sense of unity, reaching large audiences. 

Social media has done a great service in harnessing its flexibility and ubiquity to increase the public’s adherence to the safety measures suggested by global health organisations to combat the spread of Covid-19. 

She shared how social media, while it certainly has done some harm in its unfiltered form, has also done a great deal of good. Particularly making note of her own personal experience where she came across an online user having shared the thoughts and advice expressed by the Dalai Lama during these times, she expressed how greatly it impacted her and how had it not been for social media, she would not have come across that information.  

Thanuja shared that one thing that stood out for her in the Dalai Lama’s advice was how he looked to the past and reminded us that humanity has survived grave disasters and has come out of it even stronger. She stated: “Instead of these daily updates of how many have died and how many more patients have been discovered, it was a great comfort to see the evidence of humanity’s great resilience.” 

Finally, Thanuja expressed that it is impossible for only one part of society to help in such times, be it the media or the Government. We see how most people are demanding that the Government take various actions, but there is an element of responsibility on all of us, and so far the public has not expressed a strong initiative in taking responsibility and acting accordingly. In terms of the role of the media, there remains a duty to be vigilant and create awareness as responsibly, effectively, and efficiently as possible.