Journalists are not only fighting the Corona Virus epidermic, but are more challenged with the fight against the “infodemic”.
The present outbreak has become the biggest story in the world now, but it is still difficult to determine with exactitude the future and consequences of the infection.
With these uncertainties, journalists are faced with challenges like misinformation, risks of being infected in the line of duty and fear of fueling panic in communities.
In this write up, NewsUpFront will be presenting tips and some basic but major guidelines that can help journalists and reporters to break even. A case study will be the Cameroonian context of reporting.
IS RESPONSIBLE REPORTING ENOUGH?
The simple answer is NO, because other factors need to be considered when Reporting broad based stories and pandemics like COVID-19.
Before we even get to examine the tips of responsible reporting, let us revisit what has and is been done in some communities like Cameroon by reporters in the fight against Corona Virus.
In most online, print and audiovisual media organs, it is common to see or hear frightening languages like “killer disease”, “deadly virus” used by reporters, most at times ignorantly.
According to media experts like Miraj Ahmed Chowdhury of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), the following tips are necessary for responsible reporting:
1.) Reduce the use of adjectives in Reporting because you can easily plant your personal impression which could not be general in the minds of your audience.
2.) Use pictures carefully in order to avoid spreading the wrong message out.
3.) Lay emphasis on preventive actions because it can make your story less scary.
Always remember that statistical analysis are often less scary than anecdotal stories.
4.) Distinguish clearly from what is known to be true, and what is thought to be true.
In Cameroon, we have seen a case where a reporter openly comfirmed an allegation about a suspected case of Corona in a particular city. This is not only confusing but misleads the audience and discredits the media organs in general.
5.) Find the facts and not the speeches.
During periods like these, what is happening on the field is sometimes different from what the powers that be are Indicating in their speeches.
Another example in Cameroon was the death of a patient recently at the Laquintinie Hospital in Douala which sparked a controversy as to whether he died of COVID-19 or not. Different reporters reported differently on the incident. Some went for the facts while others opted for the speeches and the latter were later proven wrong.
The fifth example above takes us to examine another very important aspect in reporting about the infection, the need for journalists to report from the field and not from their offices and at the same time staying safe.
Journalists can’t just cover COVID-19 stories from self quarantine, they need to go out and meet those involved actively and get the facts straight.
But such outings are dangerous to the reporter’s safety given that the infection does not differentiate or select its victims.
It is therefore imperative for reporters to always plan each outing and what happens after each of such outings.
Experts advice is very necessary and here are some gathered by NewsUpFront.
1.) Reporters should endeavour to use protective gloves, full face masks, and other medical materials when visiting infected areas like isolation centers, and medical control units.
2.) Areas like markets especially where fresh meat is sold should be strongly avoided by reporters, they should equally avoid contacts with animals dead or alive as well as their environments.
3.) Reporters should be very Vigilant with their working tools by not placing them just everywhere when in overcrowded or suspected areas.
DEALING WITH TRAUMA
As journalists struggle to fight the Corona pandemic and infodemic, dealing with trauma is a challenging factor too because in global outbreaks, victims may not want to be identified or even to discuss their conditions.
There are communities where reporters have instead been the ones questioning why governments are hiding the identities of COVID-19 victims.
The Global Investigative Journalism Network, GIJN does not buy the idea of revealing patients identity except for very important reasons.
To an extent, it is medical secret.
Even naming quarters where victims live, could cause panic in the community, according to experts.
Reporting on COVID-19 could be very challenging, but reporters are always up to the task if they do just what is necessary accordingly.
Above all they should take care of themselves.