The University of Ghana School of Public Health has organised a Zoom virtual capacity building media training for some selected journalists and editors on the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The training dubbed ‘COVID-19 Media Training’ was meant among other things to bring to the fore the role of the media as well as how journalists should manage information flow and report facts on the coronavirus.
It was also designed in a way to help journalists learn strategies to counter misinformation such as ‘fact/reality-checks’, learn strategies to avoid reporting in ways that are potentially stigmatizing.
The Lead Facilitator was Dr. Justice Moses K. Aheto (HND, BSc, MSc, Ph.D.), Lecturer and Researcher, Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, University of Ghana.
Certificates were given to all participants at the end of the session.
The role of the media as a communication response to the COVID-19 pandemic has become critical particularly, covering and reporting events and happenings surrounding the pandemic.
Ever since the outbreak of the virus there have been reported cases of exaggerated pandemic estimates including non-evidenced based measures, an exaggerated exponential community spread, and extreme measures.
It is against this background that the training offered an educational insight into exactly what journalists should report with the prime object of avoiding fake news and causing fear and panic.
One of the Resource Persons, Dr. Phyllis Dako-Gyeke, SPH COVID -19 Response Team, speaking on Media and COVID-19 said as a Communication Response on COVID-19, the media including the Internet, Radio, Magazines, Television, and newspapers are currently seen as an Educator, Supporter, Promoter and Supplement.
“All these responses educate, support, promote and supplement are all meant to save lives, connect affected populations with experts and emergency responders, provide re-assurance and promote calm motivate people to take action to improve the situation process data, but provide information,” she said.
She continued that in order to save lives in this COVID-19 era, journalists have a big responsibility to prepare research, set goals, use trusted voices, offer practical and actionable information, interact with the audience, consider the most vulnerable population, communicate well, and also among others explore different formats.
“I would like to on this note admonish the media to consider these useful existing channels to engage the public: COVID-19 Q & A; Quizzes, Call-in shows, Audience sharing personal stories, Live town-hall style discussions, interviews by phone or web-based tools (eg. Skype or Zoom), Interactive sessions which help identify gaps & needs,” Dr. Phyllis Dako-Gyeke stated.
In her concluding remarks, she revealed that the COVID-19 is a public health emergency and the media has the power to save lives by balancing access and delivery of information by engaging communities and always using trusted sources.
In another presentation, G. Tietaah A. Laar, SPH COVID-19 Response Team, said in ensuring professionally disciplined and ethically responsible Covid-19 reporting journalists should prioritize expert sources and opinions.
He said in a novel outbreak, the primary focus must be on reporting especially by allowing audiences to directly hear voices and views of experts.
“Simplify technical terms. The public relies on media to ask resource persons to simplify, clarify, scientific terms; define, describe all technical terms on first use in each new story.
…Fight fake news. Help separate fact from fiction by fact-checking and debunking the pandemic of misinformation and fake news about Covid-19. Humanize your story. Draw attention to implications on lives and livelihoods; exercise sensitivity to sensibilities; avoid and condemn stereotypes and stigma.
…Uphold professional ethics. Adhere to principles of professional and ethical news reporting: ensuring accuracy, clarity, completeness; reporting factually, minimizing harm, correcting error,” he said.
Journalists must apply ethics dealing with ethical principles and standards of media.
He said Ethical journalism ensures the “free exchange of information that is accurate, fair, and thorough”.
“There are hundreds of codes of conduct, code of ethics, norms, charters & declarations outlining the principles, values, and obligations of the craft of journalism. The core principles of ethical journalism (from Ethical Journalism Network) Truth and Accuracy; Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism; Give all the relevant facts we have and ensure that they have been checked.
Independence; Journalists must be independent voices; should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate, or cultural.”
He reiterated that in all fairness and impartiality, most stories have at least 2 sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced.
“Journalists should consider humanity: Journalists should do no harm. You should be aware of the impact of your pen on the lives of others.”