*QMC helps disseminate correct information in the languages of the expatriates through multiple channels including newspapers, radio stations, social media, and posters and fliers
Qatar has successfully conveyed key health and safety messages to its multi-national and multi-lingual population through a slew of measures ever since the Covid-19 outbreak started earlier this year, and the Qatar Media Corporation (QMC) has played a vital role in this.
From making optimum use of the State’s television channels and radio stations to partnering with key media entities in the country and tapping the enormous potential of social media – QMC has had a multi-pronged strategy to ensure that people get prompt and accurate information on Covid-19.
One of the key challenges was to communicate the Covid-19 messages to people from multiple linguistic backgrounds.
It was also imperative to ensure that the targeted audience received authentic and accurate messages, and there should not be any miscommunication due to linguistic barriers.
In this regard, a study conducted by two university professors in Qatar showed how important messages regarding the coronavirus were effectively disseminated in the languages of expatriates with the able support and guidance of QMC.
The study was carried out by Dr Rizwan Ahmad, associate professor of Sociolinguistics in Department of English Literature & Linguistics at Qatar University, and Dr Sara Hillman, assistant professor of English in Liberal Arts Program at Texas A&M University at Qatar.
As migrant workers faced the possibility of high rates of infection during the early stages of the pandemic, Qatar’s multilingual campaign, alongside Covid-19 preventive and precautionary measures at workers’ accommodations and project sites, helped contain the spread of the virus, they found.
The researchers identified three major factors that played a key role in the success of the campaign: the use of migrants languages such as Urdu, Malayalam, Nepali, Bengali, Sinhalese and Tagalog in printed posters and fliers; use of radio stations in delivering awareness messages in an oral form; and mobilisation of community and religious leaders.
The study referred to a 2019 report by a private consulting firm company, which showed there were 94 nationalities residing in Qatar.
With a population of 700,000, Indians constituted by far the largest nationality group in Qatar, making up 21.8% of the total, of whom some 400,000 were estimated to be Malayalam speakers from the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Bangladeshis and Nepalis also surpassed the percentage of Qatari nationals, both groups individually making up 12.5% of the total population, and residents from the Philippines, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were the next largest non-Arab expatriate groups in Qatar.
When grouped all together, South/Southeast Asians constituted approximately 65% of the total population of Qatar and formed the majority of the workforce, with Arabs around only 28%. While Arabic is the official language of Qatar, English acts as a de facto second official language and is widely used as a lingua franca.
In addition, multiple vernacular languages from the nations of the expatriates are used by people in large numbers.
These include Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, Tamil, Balochi, Urdu, Tagalog, Indonesian, Persian, Sinhalese, Amharic, Swahili, French and Pashto, among others.
In particular, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Tamil, Tagalog, Bengali, Nepali and English cover the major non-Arab migrant languages, accounting for approximately 65% of the expatriate population.
The use of a wide variety of languages by Qatar's residents made it imperative for QMC and government agencies to send out the Covid-19 messages in as many languages as possible.
Within less than two weeks of the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Qatar, QMC launched a Covid-19 awareness campaign on social media, particularly targeting community members who did not know Arabic or English.
Besides QMC, different departments of the government, namely the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, Hamad Medical Corporation, Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Ministry of Municipality and Environment and the Government Communications Office, worked on the multilingual awareness campaign.
Faisal Abdulhamed al-Mudahka, Editor-in-Chief of ‘Gulf Times’ told the researchers in an interview that he realised English was not understood by everyone and miscommunication and misunderstanding about the virus in the early stages convinced him and others knowledgeable about the matter that an aggressive campaign in the languages of the workers was needed.
Accordingly, Qatar’s ministries published a number of awareness posters and fliers in languages beyond Arabic and English, such as Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Nepali, Bengali, Sinhalese, Tagalog, Pashto, Indonesian and Tamil.
Moving beyond posters and fliers, QMC felt it was important to utilise migrant language radio stations to deliver the correct information to workers since many of them faced literacy issues.
While discussing the role of foreign-language media in Qatar on a local programme called Doha 360, al-Mudahka stressed how important it was to partner with the radio stations to fight misinformation and deliver the correct information to people.
QMC worked closely with Radio Olive 106.3 FM, Suno Malayalam Network 91.7 FM, Qabayan Radio 94.3 FM, Radio Malayalam 98.6 FM, and Urdu Radio FM 107.
Together with ‘Gulf Times’, a health awareness campaign, ‘Come Together, Overcome Together’, was initiated in Hindi, Nepali, Tagalog, Malayalam, Sinhalese and Urdu.
A new Bengali language channel was also launched on 95.3 FM to assist the campaign as there did not previously exist any radio stations for Bengali speakers.
Although these stations are private and rely on advertisement, their station managers said they saw it as part of their corporate social responsibility.
Radio Olive and Suno Network shared with the researchers their audio clips in 10 languages — Bengali, English, Hindi, Tagalog, Kannada, Malayalam, Nepali, Pashto, Sinhalese and Urdu, which were played on air.
Multilingual messages were prepared by their radio jockeys (RJs) in collaboration with community members.
They were aired from March 11 until the end of May from 6am until midnight every hour.
Radio Olive and Suno Network also did something unique; they sent these audio clips to their 40,000 listeners signed up for their WhatsApp programmes.
The study illustrates, as an example, Covid-19 awareness messages aired on Radio Malayalam 98.6 FM in different languages on a particular day (April 15). Covid-19 Arabic and English advertisements were aired 23 times each, Covid-19 common notifications 33 times, Covid-19 precautions (Tamil) 17 times, Covid-19 precautions capsule sets (1 and 2) 22 times, Covid-19 precautions (Malayalam) 9 times, Covid-19 precautions (Bengali — 1 and 2) 10 times, and Covid-19 precautions (Sinhalese) 8 times.
Realising the potential of social media in disseminating prompt and accurate information, QMC launched a Twitter account, Covid19Qatar, in April to disseminate authentic news regarding the virus.
Since then, it has acted as a platform for publishing official news and follow-up on related topics, in addition to focusing on the efforts of ministries, official institutions and all sectors in curbing the spread of the virus.
The new Twitter account complemented QMC's outreach efforts in this regard.
The account has released daily newsletters in different languages apart from publishing statistics and the latest daily developments, as well as awareness videos produced by the QMC.
The account has served as a barrier against the spread of rumours as well as a platform to introduce the most important articles and news related to official institutions and their efforts to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Overall, QMC has produced hundreds of awareness materials during the current Covid-19 crisis through various channels, thereby supporting the government efforts in containing the spread of Covid-19.
Its awareness campaign has seen the participation of entities across all its sectors — digital, audio and visual.
In addition to the radio stations mentioned above, QMC’s awareness campaign has also involved entities such as 'Chandrika' newspaper (Malayalam). The awareness campaign aimed to contribute to reducing the spread of Covid-19 by producing videos in different languages to be published on the most popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
This supported QMC’s goal to reach the largest possible number of targeted groups.
The videos focused on the most important information, such as the need to maintain personal hygiene — including household cleanliness, the difference between isolation and quarantine, things to do at home such as exercise, and ensuring food hygiene.
Speaking to 'Gulf Times' earlier on how successful has been the policy of spreading awareness messages in migrant languages in containing the Covid-19 outbreak in Qatar, Dr Ahmad said: “Communication at a time like Covid-19 pandemic is referred to as crisis communication."
He said it is therefore essential to ensure that the message reached all.