Managing to make public health messaging entertaining and educative

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
We all know the power of the moving pictures and sounds in communicating messages and how effective they can be during a crisis–the right manner of communicating life-saving messages can save hundreds and thousands of lives, especially in a crisis, the like of which we have all undergone in the very recent past.
And though we are now relatively safe from the pandemic, with the worst behind us, it is by no means over, as the danger still persists and lurks around some corner that we may not anticipate. Which makes it very important for us to maintain vigil and continue to take precautions and be at our Covid best behaviour, just to ensure that we and our loved ones remain safe from any virus around, now or in the future.
Now, only the other day I was amidst people responsible for the successful messaging of Covid appropriate behaviour–soon after the pandemic broke out and all through the two years and more of our Nation’s collective fight against the seemingly invisible enemy–the men and women who thought up ways and means to tell the people all the important things about the disease, the dos and don’ts, the precautions one ought to take, about maintaining cleanliness, about progress made in vaccine discovery, about essential goods and services and you name it – everything that a person needs for living safe and healthy and protect oneself from the deadly virus.
Yes, I am speaking about the Government owned media– Doordarshan and All India Radio, the country’s premier Television and Radio – that rose to the occasion and did pioneering work when it came to messaging – the right messaging.
With thousands of radio stations and hundreds of television broadcasting centres, the Government-owned media realised its responsibility and put up its hand for the frontline duty–of finding the relevant information and passing it to the people, even if it meant rubbing shoulders with danger for itself and its employees.
It was very educative to hear the people responsible for the successful media outreach – people like Mayank Agarwal, CEO, Prasar Bharati and Doordarshan, Director General, who used the entire might of the public broadcaster and its hardware and thought nothing of roping in the best software–programming and people responsible for programming from the creative world of television and films to come up with creative messaging– useful information presented in an interesting manner so that it reaches the people in easy to digest and remember form. So, the content had to be both educative and entertaining–besides conforming to all the cannons of good journalism–being factual, truthful and objective as the information being shared would be of immense importance in life and death situations.
The public broadcaster–both Doordarshan and All India Radio–also did not shy away from taking help from anywhere it came–from USAID and UNICEF which partnered them with all the relevant, useful information then and continues even to this day in collaborating with these two media organisations in spreading public health related messaging.
Lauding the partnership of US Agency for International Development (USAID) and UNICEF with Doordarshan, Agarwal said the most recent collaboration to create an extremely engaging and interesting television serial – Duur Se Namaste with key messages on maintain vigil and adopt good healthy practices was something that would appeal to the masses and was a classic example of an educative and entertaining messaging that would grab the audience’s attention and drill the message home.  
Duur Se Namaste, a fictional Hindi series developed in an entertainment-education format, highlights the challenges of a post-pandemic world and promotes the adoption of healthy behaviours and practices. Weaving messages on COVID-19 vaccine promotion and the need to continue COVID-19 appropriate behaviour, it includes tips for navigating mental health issues for children and young people and supporting children’s learning recovery as they return to school.
I cannot agree more with Additional Secretary and Mission Director, National Health, Roli Singh and Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Ms. Neerja Sekhar who outlined the way forward for the post-pandemic world, and the critical role the mass media and communications play in the promotion of health and health related information.
COVID-19 knows no borders and no one is safe until everyone is safe. The entertainment serial highlights the challenges of life in the new normal, and ways to navigate these through good health practices. Actors of this serial too said they had to dig out something special from their repertoire to rise to the challenge – and most easily one of the most challenging assignments they had done so far in their lives.
Because television can be highly impactful in catalysing effective behaviour change, serial such as these are helpful. We have seen the power of visual communication during the pandemic. One hopes that this serial will provide excellent entertainment to a large audience and also create a space to discuss important themes like supporting children as they are now back to school, psychosocial support for children of all ages, and mental health challenges among young people.
Now that the efficacy of infotainment and its educative value is proven, there is need for similar initiatives in different arenas of life, say education for one. Now at a time when private television media seems to have taken all the limelight, it is the good old “staid”  Doordarshan that is doing what has been its mandate – educating the people. There are, approximately some 200 education channels that Doordarshan operates and 750 virtual labs and 75 e-labs for skilling and vocational activities.
Now imagine the potential that these avenues present in terms of spreading quality education – especially given the fact that Covid-19 showed us the way forward to Learn From Anywhere model. And technology enables this with ease.
So, what is needed at this juncture is creation of high quality content for educative purposes, and one hopes the National broadcaster would turn its attention to this critical area. Not this is not being done, but some more focus on this, to impart cutting edge knowledge, skills and exposure will do our children and younger workforce a world of good.
The tone, tenor of the articulation of Doordarshan boss and his enthusiasm to try new ideas promises to make the media space more interesting and useful.