Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been abundance of information that keeps emerging about the virus. And this trend presents challenges for reporters and the scientists they talk to when researching their stories. Good reporting has to distinguish legitimate sources of information from rumours and half-truths.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a special call to duty for all journalists, especially the public health beat reporter. Journalists are expected to lead the frontlines in providing the news, information and education that the public need.
In order to discharge this duty without causing fear and panic, there are some ethical issues that should be considered:
1. Avoid sensationalism and scaremongering in language and images that could heighten anxiety: For instance, do not blow out of proportion pictures of empty market stalls or supermarket shelves, stockpiling and other images which can inflame tensions and create more panic.
2. Avoid racial/ ethnic profiling: You do not need to repeat where the virus was generated each time you report new cases. The geographic focus of the virus has moved, but there are still examples of racism and discrimination in reporting against certain groups of people. Article 20 of the GJA Code of Ethics provides the relevant caution. “A journalist produces no material that has the potential to lead to hatred, ridicule and discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, education, religion, gender, ethnicity, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status or sexual orientation”.
3. Be Accurate and report Facts: avoid rumour and try not to speculate; there’s a huge amount of misinformation circling, so be aware of how to spot and debunk such misinformation. Article 6 of the GJA Code of Ethics provides: “A journalist recognises the public’s right to fair, unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive information”.
4. Protect affected People: do not identify names, images or material without the permission of the relevant people.
5. Seek Expert Opinions: Always source your stories from medics , scientists and officials with relevant credentials – but note that scientific advice is frequently changing
6. Prioritise Expert Sources: Your primary focus must be on reporting, rather than analysis. The effective journalist should cede, rather than seize, the stage in the coronavirus news and information theatre. You can do this by allowing your audiences to directly hear the voices and views of independent experts and practitioners. This will confer credibility on your report, reduce rumour and unfounded fear, and enable the public to make responsible health choices based on reliable information.
7. Simplify Technical Terms: The outbreak of diseases like COVID-19 comes with medical terms like “respiratory droplets” and “community transmission”. As a reporter/ presenter you may be familiar with the scientific jargon, but the public rely on you to better understand and relate to such technical terms better. So do well to define or describe all such terms for the understanding of your audience
8. Be wary of Fake News: According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 has spawned “a massive infodemic” of conspiracy theories and sham treatment recommendations “that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” As a journalist you have a responsibility to help separate fact from fiction. Article 8 of the GJA Code of Ethics says, “A journalist separates facts, opinions and commentary such that news is presented objectively without embellishment”.
9. Uphold Professional Ethics: From the above points, it is clear that there is a call on journalists to report on this pandemic in an ethical and effective way that builds professional guardrails against the pandemic of rumours and false remedies being circulated.
All we have to do is to adhere to and apply the principles of professional news reporting and ensure that all the basic journalistic questions - ‘the 5Ws + 1H are featured to address accuracy, clarity and completeness of every story.
As frontliners, let us ensure our safety first as we go round discharging our duties our dear motherland Ghana.
Thank You and Stay Safe and God bless us all
GJA Vice President
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