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Communications; a vital element in times of crisis

During the ongoing impact COVID-19 has had on our lives and livelihood, it is essential to remember the duty of communications practitioners during times of crises. 

The old adage, in terms of structural functionalism, dictates that well-functioning societies are dependant on well-functioning structures. Dysfunctional structures lead to, well, dysfunctional societies. 

Harmony within this enmeshed framework is dependant on each element— be it good governance, or a fair legal system — to function well within their parameters and in unity with each other. 

A vital element of well-functioning societies is communication. More specifically, a communication that informs the public, encourages transparency and holds the various elements that make up a society to account. 

However, what happens when a “dysfunction” disrupts the operational elements of society? 

Taking the current and ongoing crisis evolving from the COVID-19 pandemic, we not only detect an apparent disruption to the lives and livelihoods of members within once relatively well-functioning societies but a crisis within the communication sector in terms of maintaining its principle function. 

Within the third media age — where computerisation, digitisation, and the plummeting cost of production — traditional media sources are vying for attention in an over-saturated market filled with professionals, prosumers and citizen journalists. 

This robust mix of sources is not necessarily a negative element, given that many non-traditional sources have been “first at the scene,” provided a more in-depth analysis, or an opposing narrative, to certain instances and events that have shaped our realities and the world as we know it. 

However, with a plethora of sources and some traditional media outlets engaging in content production veering on the sensationalist, reductionist, prescriptive or prognostic for commercial purposes, now (potentially more than ever before, given the global reach of COVID-19), our role as communications experts becomes essential. 

Communications experts, scholars, practitioners and aspirants have a duty during times of crises, and that is to be a proverbial beacon of reason, rationale, pre-bunking and debunking. 

It is now that our various channels of communication; be they academic papers, social media platforms, blogs, and columns, should be utilised to revert communications to its principle function.

That is, to inform the public, dispel rumours, provide a platform for experts, and an outlet for the public. 

After all, if structural functionalism has merit, a well-functioning communications sector could place society on the path away from dysfunction, the sooner, the better. 

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