SIGNIS Asia organised an International Webinar on ‘COVID-19: The Role of Media and Communications, and Moving Beyond’ on 18-19, November 2020 via online zoom.
Disaster Management experts, social scientists and activists, media professionals and theologians were invited as speakers in the webinar, attended by around 140 people from 20 countries. The Vice-President of SIGNIS Asia, Dr. Magimai Pragasam coordinated the event, supported by Fr. Joseph Anucha Chaiyadej, the President, Bernadetta Widiandajani, the Secretary, Francis Kim, the Treasurer and the members, Mac Machida, and Adeline James.
Emphasising the important role of members in the present scenario, Ms. Helen Osman, the President of SIGNIS World said in her message, ‘As the Body of Christ, the Church has been a beacon of true hope, a courageous witness of love in action. For us, there is no ‘social dilemma’. Instead, for us, social media presents another opportunity to be the voice of the voiceless, as our patron St. Oscan Romero, so eloquently said. Let us not only be the microphones for God, but also smart phone users for God and his people’.
The objective of the webinar was to study the impact of COVID-19 on the poor and vulnerable, role of media and communications, the learning from our interventions, and to explore the possibilities of converting challenges into opportunities.
‘The COVID-19 has affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in Asia, and the worst affected are the poor, migrants, dalits, tribal communities, minorities, elderly, women, children, palliative care patients, and the differently abled’ said, Prof. Vinod Chandra Menon, the founder member of National Disaster Management Authority, Government of India, in his opening address.
‘Loss of jobs, salary cuts, partial payment, terminations, the myth of work from home, lack of access to important needs such as health care, education, social protection, food security, violence against women and children, depression, trauma and suicidal tenancies are some of the crucial issues faced by the people as the direct result of COVID-19’ asserted Prof. Menon.
He further added that ‘the impact on the employment of migrant workers in the Asia Pacific countries is estimated to be remittance losses ranging from USD 31.4 billion to USD 54.3 billion’. He said, ‘there must be people’s participation in decision making processes’ and exhorted, ‘we need to strive for social, physical, electoral, emotional, and digital inclusion of common people’.
Dr. Richard, the Country Director of Caritas Myanmar said, ‘we need to reach out to people with courage, hope and commitment. Collaboration with all actors at International, national, regional and grassroots levels is the key’.
The International Disaster Consultant Mr. Aloysius James said, ‘the millennium development goals are kept aside and nearly 150 million will be pushed to extreme poverty soon’. He said, ‘during this pandemic period, millions of people were denied human dignity and human rights’. He appealed to all actors to uphold the rights and humanitarian needs of the marginalised while addressing the COVID issues.
While addressing on ‘Role of Media’, noted journalist Varghese V Joseph said, ‘misinformation is worse than the disease itself.’ He focused attention on ‘the contrasting behaviour of the media, its misplaced priorities, engineered content, and denial to access real data’. He emphasised on the need for ‘evidence-based media training, right use of media and collaboration with UN in addressing the issues’.
Fr. Cedric Prakash, the well-known social activist and journalist appealed to the media professionals to raise right questions at right context, saying, ‘Communication is always contextual and cannot alienate reality.’ He said, ‘every social actor must be critical, creative, courageous, collaborative and committed’.
One of the interesting parts of the webinar was the sharing of SIGNIS members from all over Asia on ‘insights from COVID related interventions’.
While Fr. Qaisar Feroz of Pakistan questioned the actions of some groups which used COVID for religious conversions, Fr. Anand Mathew of India shared on the power of united action in addressing the needs of the vulnerable. Fr. Francis Guntipilly SJ of Bangalore talked about the urgency and significance of initiating action to achieve results, and Fr. Hiroshi Katayanagi SJ of Japan focused on using social media extensively to spread the messages of peace and hope.
‘Korean Catholic Church acted swiftly and Catholic Television began to feed the faithful with religions messages’ said Helena Choi and Romulus Lee of Korea. While Adrian Pereira shared on how migrants’ issues were addressed, Terence Charles shared on the launch of an awareness campaign in Malaysia to contain COVID-19.
Pope Francis’ bold initiatives in instilling a deep sense of ‘hope and peace’ among the suffering masses was well expressed by Fr. Paul Samasumo of Rome.
Discussing on ‘Post COVID Scenario’ Rev. Dr. Anthony Le Duc SVD of Thailand said, ‘ it is reasonable to think that church leaders who have befriended social media during the COVID-19 will continue to explore other ways to incorporate this digital technology into their work, in particular their communication with people inside and outside of their religious community’.
Rev. Dr. X.D Selvaraj, the noted Theologian from India said, ‘Everything in the universe is interrelated and interconnected and disasters of this nature are the symptoms of imbalances in social order. We need to strike a ‘balance’ by creating a culture of peace and empowering people to bring about equality and social justice’.
Members spent nearly four and half hours every day during this virtual conference. The third day was devoted to business sessions of SIGNIS Asia with presentations of country reports, screening committee and desk reports and other business matters.
The SIGNIS Korea President, Francis Kim gave a call to all members to attend the ‘SIGNIS WORLD CONGRESS, Korea, 2022’ in large numbers. World President Ms. Helen Osman appreciated SIGNIS Asia for the success of this event. The three day event ended with concluding remarks from the Coordinator and the blessings of Fr. Joseph Anucha, the President of SIGNIS Asia.
Dr Magimai Pragasam