Journalists urged to be objective when reporting on COVID-19

Ethical, balanced and objective journalism plays a pivotal role in human development, good governance and democratic development of modern societies. 

Rapid technological development has created a new normal in the media landscape where some online content creators with huge online audiences have control over one of the world’s most important resources; information.

Hence, there is a need to train these content creators and digital journalists on the need to be careful with the information they share, lest they participate knowingly or unknowingly in the spread of fake news.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, fake information can kill. A recent report quoted in a World Health Organisation article shows that in the first 3 months of 2020, nearly 6 000 people around the globe were hospitalised because of coronavirus misinformation.

In Zimbabwe,  new media have a wider reach than traditional media, hence the need for training on misinformation and disinformation and the effect it can have on the health-seeking behaviours of online audiences.

United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation(UNSECO) and the European Union recently organised a training workshop for digital journalists and content creators within the Zimbabwe Online Content Creators’ (ZOCC) membership on, ‘Conflict Sensitive Reporting: Debunking Covid-19 disinformation’.

The training sought to, ‘assist media partners to professionally and effectively share lifesaving information, and debunk disinformation on Covid-19 in conflict-prone environments and enhance capacities of partner media professionals to report on COVID-19’. 

The Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation(CCMT) conducted the training where ZOCC was the facilitator.

The training encouraged journalists to be highly professional and balanced while avoiding inflammatory statements that may fuel conflicts, especially on COVID-19 vaccine information.  

Journalists were encouraged to show balance when interviewing a panel of people with conflicting opinions.

“Encourage interviewees to consider the other parties involved. It’s not our job to censure interviewees, but we also do not want to be manipulated by parties who want to use our channels to further provoke conflict and to launch attacks on others.  Be firm. Being conflict-sensitive does not prevent journalists from being tough on interviewees when necessary.

 “Listen carefully and paraphrase people’s responses back to them. We cannot afford to misrepresent what people have to say during times of conflict. Lives could depend on our getting a particular quote right,” said CCMT Trainer Richard Chere in his presentation.

The World Health Organisation has termed the over-abundance of covid-19 information which may not always be correct as an ‘infordemic’ that may breed scepticism and distrust, especially on accurate and scientific COVID-19 information and interventions. 

Neutral and accurate and responsible news reporting is key in having a well-informed citizenry that makes qualified health-seeking decisions based on fact.

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