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In a crisis, the ability to disseminate information rapidly and effectively can be a matter of life and death. During the COVID-19 pandemic, accurate, timely, and trusted information about the number of cases, ways to prevent infection, government curfew and lockdown orders, and reasons why they’re important can help reduce transmission, dispel rumors, prevent panic, limit the use of dangerous quack “treatments,” facilitate planning for a stay-at-home period, and improve compliance, ultimately reducing the impact of the virus.

What are the best ways of informing Zimbabweans about COVID-19 and other issues of critical importance? How do traditional media compare to new media platforms? What are the most trusted voices and the most effective channels?

Afrobarometer data from 2017 and 2018 show that radio remains the leading source of media news for Zimbabweans, although television dominates in urban areas. More citizens own mobile phones than radios or televisions, but most of those phones don’t have access to the Internet, and use of digital media is still limited.

Importantly, there’s one source of news that’s accessed more frequently than any media channel: other people. During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this highlights the importance of responsible information-sharing, backed whenever possible by fact-checking, to avoid spreading rumors and misinformation, whether on social media or in everyday conversation. The data also show that religious leaders are the most trusted institution in the country, making them a potentially valuable conduit for COVID-19 information on any channel.