Reporting in times of COVID-19: how journalists can aid in improving the pandemic

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These are strange times for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed many lives. Journalists have faced barriers they’ve never come across before. Below are some effective ways journalists can do to make a and what pitfalls they should avoid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, UNAIDS released the report: ‘Rights in the time of COVID-19 Lessons from HIV for an effective, community-led response’. It presents key lessons to take away from the AIDS epidemic that are also crucial in the current health crisis, focusing on a human rights-based approach. These are three take-aways for journalists to use that change their reporting for the better.

Tackle stigmas and discrimination

More than ever, it is important to avoid discrimination in your work. It is important to fact check when you’re writing about vulnerable communities, to ensure no false implications are drawn  by the reader.

For instance, avoid terms like ‘super-spreader’ when discussing highly-affected communities in fragile states. Implications that are not evidence-based might lead to fear-driven decision making. Assure that the voices of highly affected communities such as the severely affected Islamic Tablighi Jamaat movement are heard.

The UNAIDS reports, “Empowered communities are key to an effective response. Community leaders, including leaders of faith-based organizations, may play a role in disseminating accurate information, in preventing panic and in confronting stigma and discrimination.”

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Actively fight false information

Fighting against misinformation is crucial to win the battle against COVID-19. False comments such as Trump’s claim that injecting disinfectant works as an antidote to the virus lead to serious consequences.

While this falsehood might be easy to assess for many people, the line between what is real and fake is sometimes blurred. This is in part affected by the quality of modern day  technology. Photoshopping someone’s face or even creating a “deep fake” has never been easier. Fighting misinformation is quite the challenge.

Taking human rights law into account reveals the paradox of protecting humans’ right to health information and, on the other hand, the right to freedom of speech. Although it might sometimes feel like a battle you can not win, fighting misinformation  has to be a battle you never give up on.

Consistent and reliable communication and strategic engagement with the public and high-risk populations can help alleviate confusion and minimize significant misunderstandings.

Journalists can address fake news by discussing and debunking it through thorough fact-checking. One available resource is Emergent – a dynamic online tool that verifies and falsifies claims for rumors when the source is unidentifiable.

Advocate for human rights

The UNAIDS-report states, “Governments must refrain from acting in a manner that either directly or indirectly discriminates against individuals or groups, including avoiding unintended consequences of policies and programmes and protecting against third party discrimination.”

To represent people and communities who lack social and financial power, strong journalists can effectively speak truth to power and hold stakeholders accountable.

It is also important to keep in mind that existing inequalities might lead to vulnerable groups being more harshly affected by the pandemic. The inability to afford health care might hinder people from getting tested, for instance.

Fight for the rights of those who need it most in these odd times by giving them exposure. One way of doing that is by advocating for them through human interest-focused interviews. 


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This blog post was written by Christa Koeyvoets and edited by Education and Communications Associate, Sabrina Sanchez.

Featured image borrowed from AbsolutVision via Unsplash.

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