Nepal | September 28, 2020

Govt fails to deliver right info at right time

Himalayan News Service
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Kathmandu, March 13

On the one hand, the government laments about mass media and social media disseminating misinformation on coronavirus, and on the other, it itself has failed to disseminate right information at right time to clear the controversy surrounding the disease.

The government’s official communication on COVID-19 preparedness yesterday is a case in point.

In the afternoon, the Ministry of Health and Population organised a press conference making public the government’s strategy to prevent and control coronavirus after World Health Organisation characterised the COVID-19 as global pandemic.

It announced plans such as completely halting flights to and from affected countries; imposing restrictions at border points and locking down pocket areas. It said these measures would be taken if the virus spread in the country, without mentioning a clear-cut implementation timeline.

Later in the day, the high-level committee for prevention and control of coronavirus decided to impose sweeping travel restrictions such as halting issuance of travel visas and border restrictions.

Talking to journalists immediately after the meeting at around 7:30pm, the government Spokesperson Yubaraj Khatiwada shared some vague information about matters discussed at the meeting. He wrapped up the interaction stating he could not reveal decisions in line with the single window system for sharing information. He said the committee’s secretariat would make public the decisions, but he did not say when.

The decisions were then posted on the website of the prime minister’s office early in the morning today, as per the posted time mentioned on the website.

“The government seems to be taking information sharing as a burden,” said former health minister Gagan Kumar Thapa, who was among those suggesting the single window system for information sharing at Wednesday’s all-party meeting. “This will backfire.”

Thapa said they suggested single window system so that the government could disseminate right information through the right source at the right time. “If the government fails to timely disseminate right information, misinformation will fill that gap,” he said. “This will create confusion among the people and they will eventually lose faith in the government. You know how important it is to win people’s confidence during emergencies.”

On vague information pouring in from multiple sources, Thapa said the government lacked an integrated national action plan clearly stating what role which government agency would play.

Communication expert Tara Nath Dahal said there was need for the mass media to act responsibly during emergencies and only disseminate verified information. He, however, added it was the state’s responsibility to make the mass media responsible by feeding in right information at the right time. If need be, the state has to collaborate with mass media and social media. “Emergency communication is a different ball game. Sadly, the government neither understands this nor has it devised a coordinated strategy,” said Dahal.

He said because of this lax emergency communication management, the people were sceptical that the government was hiding information about infections as it claimed Nepal was coronavirus-free.

Also yesterday, the country was rife with rumours about India sealing border points, resulting in panic-buying among the people in markets already hit by artificial shortages. “The government did not bother to timely quell such rumours with effective communication, and the people are still not convinced that such a situation would not arise,” said Dahal. “This shows the government is acting on an ad-hoc basis.”


A version of this article appears in print on March 14, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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