Trustworthy and factual information saves lives in times of crises and pandemic. In this distress, journalists can play an integral role in helping to save lives and supporting people to act as agents in their own survival and recovery. ‘’Information” is increasingly recognized as an essential component to the survival of people caught in a pandemic. In Pakistan, journalists went through complex emergencies (Militancy and terrorism), natural disasters (earthquake and floods) and health-related crises (dengue). The current Covid-19 pandemic reporting is comparatively unusual and difficult for the journalist due to many reasons include;
•Social media emerged as a fastest tool to share the information and it gained rapid prominence on mainstream media in the last some years.
•Covid-19 is a new virus for experts, doctors, medical practitioners and scientists, so it’s very hard to collect verified information.
•Geographical coverage of Covid-19 is all Pakistan includes Azad Jammu and Kashmir and GB.
•There is no active campaign about false news, messages, videos and photos by the government.
•Misinformation is coming through those social media channels which have millions of followers.
•Politicians and policymakers are trying to minimize the dangers of the Covid-19.
•Due to its global positioning, there are hundreds of conspiracy theories about the cure, prevention and treatment disseminated through social media.
Absence of accurate and reliable information creates fertile ground for conspiracy theories, false news and misinformation which makes the life difficult for the people.
Dr Faizullah Jan Chair and Associate Prof. Department of Journalism and Mass Communication University of Peshawar said that “In any crisis situation, fake news and misinformation find a breeding ground. Therefore, in the age of Covid-19, the fight is at two levels: to educate the people to save themselves and to counter fake news and misinformation.’’
Journalists have been facing many challenges to get the correct and verified information about Covid-19. Due to ineffective information channels by the government, people are getting information from unverified information such as Facebook, Youtube and what’s app. Dr Faiz added, ‘’ misinformation find an audience when there is not enough factual information. So the first step is to keep communicating with people by using every medium’’.
As of 29th June, the numbers of Covid-19 cases are more than two hundred thousand. Death toll reaches up to 4000. According to Gallup Pakistan 58% of Pakistani still believes that corona is being aggregated. WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told, ‘’the world is in a new and dangerous phase. Many people are understandably fed up with being at home … but the virus is still spreading fast.
Pakistani authorities also predicted that the number of Corona cases can reach up to 2 million by the end of August. In this critical situation, journalists are trying to provide accurate information and interpreting it with the help of health professional but with different audience and timescale. Science has the beauty that it is always open to correction and change, which is then exploited by conspiracy theorists to discredit it. But scientists have to keep communicating with and updating people through all possible means including media because misinformation is harmful to the people at different levels. They make wrong choices and stop trusting institutions.
This pandemic is a test of journalism professionals to inform and educate the public timely through effective mediums. Here are some suggestions to report the stories.
Knowing the audience needs is the most important part of media reporting. In current phase of pandemic, it is essential to determine the immediate needs of the audience. What kind of information leads them to receive their needs? In current scenario, for instance, fighting with rumours is one of the areas to report because people avoid going to hospitals and visit doctors. At this stage, the communities need daily updates about what is happening around as well as a broader picture of future happenings. The people also need information which can reduce their fear of Covid-19 and its treatment. Some ideas can be;
What exactly is happening?
Who is at risk?
What kind of assistance is available? Who is providing assistance and treatment?
How long will the situation lost? How should the public prevent them from Covid-19?
Where can one find accurate information?
Journalists are part of this society and they are getting hundreds of Covid-19 related information every day. So before publishing any news on their respective mediums or social media, it is important to check it through fact-checking resources available online and offline.
The Corona Virus Facts Alliance provides a database to check false information about Covid-19. Led by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at the Poynter Institute this database unites fact-checkers in more than 70 countries including Pakistan. https://www.poynter.org/coronavirusfactsalliance/
Journalists can verify false news/photos through the following online resources as well.
Locally facts can be verified through online resources of health departments, National disaster Management Authority, Covid-19 National Command and Operation Center, World Health Organisation and United Nations.
It is important to seek diverse sources of information. As journalism practice, a journalist should confirm the information at least from two ‘’credible’’ resources. Journalists are facing a big challenge to find a relevant medical expert or scientist on Covid-19 for factual information such as immunologist, microbiologists, virologist and nutritionists. Medical is a vast field so not every medical doctor is an expert of Covid-19. Due to irrelevant selection of talent by the journalist, false information can be circulated and harm the public.
Define Terms and expressions
Covid-19 is purely a medical subject. Instead of interpreting terminologies, ask the expert to interpret it for the public. Define the hard terms so people can understand it. For instance, what is the difference between quarantine and isolation?
Replace wrong with the right
Misinformation is already there. Here is the duty of a journalist to come out from comfort level, get the facts and present true stories. For instance, conspiracy theory says that doctors are giving poison injection to Corona patients and kill them. A true story may be to go to the hospital, meet a recovered patient and ask about his treatment in the hospital. Besides this, a journalist can get the data of recovered patients from public sector hospitals.
Balancing the story
Journalists are more informed and aware. They already know that corona is a fact and has been affecting millions of lives every day. So there is no need to take ‘’another’’ view to balance the story. Conspiracy theorists take more air-time if an anchor or journalist invite them to speak. Instead of those deniers, give more time and space to those who are the subject experts. Balance your story with fact-checking and genuine news.
A journalist is not a medical Expert
Always seek information from reliable sources. A journalist is not a Covid-19 expert so he/she should not give her/his own opinion about virus spread or cure. People may ask several questions from a journalist as they consider him/her a trustworthy source of information so never give any opinion on the basis of ‘’what you think’’.
Stigmatization of patient
Covid-19 recovered patients went through a difficult time in their quarantine. They may get post-trauma depression. So be humble with them and do not portray their story which leads to any stigma.
Do not quote draft/Fake research
Researches about Covid-19 are still in progress. Scientists around the world are working to find various elements of Covid-19. Sometimes those researchers only publish draft results of their work. Avoid quoting those half researches. Similarly do not rely on unusual and unexpected news. In Pakistan, quakes came up with various remedies like ‘’Sana Makhi’’ to cure Corona but none of them scientifically proved yet. People may use those things and can harm themselves.
Ethics and Safety
It is necessary to keep all ethical standards while reporting on Covid-19. Especially during filming and photography, a journalist should strictly follow the ethics which includes permission from the patient.
Self –CareCovid-19 is the most challenging pandemic of the current time. A journalist should take all safety measures when going to the field and hospitals.
Public and media have a trust relationship. During this pandemic, some people do not want to disclose their information to the public. Besides that, a journalist is a well-informed person in society. He should categories when, why and where such information can be published.
According to WHO, the outbreak is still there so collaborative efforts are required to share and check the facts. Editors and Reporters of media houses are required to collaborate on a higher level and plan to fight back against misleading information. It’s the question of their social responsibility. It’s the question of their credibility so it is recommended to establish a coordination forum/platform for this purpose.