When we journalists report from frontlines or cover breaking news, we often forget about our own well-being and safety. Be it in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, in times of war, or on an ordinary day, we need to remind each other to take care of ourselves, too.
A couple of days ago, I participated in a talk show at Swiss Radio and Television in Zurich. Usually broadcast live in front of an audience of 200 people, the program was aired from studios equipped with anti-bacterial sprays and facial masks, fishpole microphones instead of clip mics, and we the guests sitting 2 meters apart.
While in most countries journalists are exempted from lockdowns, some have now swapped their newsrooms for their living rooms.
CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour for example has set up a full-fledged live studio in her house: “Never had to broadcast from home before! But we’re taking social distancing seriously, and will continue to report the facts with neither fear nor favour,” she wrote on her Instagram account.
But many members of the media do not find themselves in the comfort zones of their homes. Instead, they are exposed to infection through travel, interviews, and the locations they are working in.
On March 27, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Moez Chakchouk, voiced concerns about the safety of journalists amid COVID-19: “The role of journalists in informing the public during the ongoing crisis is absolutely pivotal,” he said, stressing thatjournalistic work can save lives in the current emergency.
In these unprecedented times, reporters play the crucial role to keep the public informed about the pandemic and authorities’ efforts to combat it.The importance of accurate and reliable journalism cannot be overstated.
The International Standards on Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression state that governments have to guarantee the safety of journalists in covering the crisis.
But how should media companies themselves protect their own staff in the field?
Physical, psychological and mental health always has to be the top priority. Media organizations need to make sure their journalists are trained on sanitary precautions and equipped with protective material.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has issued safety guidelines and an advisory for journalists covering the COVID-19 outbreak, including pre-assignment preparations, tips for avoiding infection in affected areas, travel planning, and post-assignment cautions. It can be found here.
The CPJ also urges managements to consult with medical experts about the health risks, consider the potential psychological impacts, and to be mindful of racist attacks against certain nationalities when deploying staff for reporting on the coronavirus.
Let’s also not forget about digital security: Many journalists have come under online harassment and phishing attacks for their coverage of the pandemic. In such incidents, media outlets are responsible to protect their staff, freelancers, and their sources as well.
In turn, journalists should pause before they click, be extra vigilant of fake news and hoaxes, conscious of state-sponsored misinformation, and alert to the risks posed by reporting on or from countries with authoritarian regimes.
As World Health Organization (WHO)Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the Munich Security Conference on February 15: “We’re not just fighting an epidemic, we’re fighting an infodemic”.
The WHO has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, and the number of cases has continued to rise globally ever since.
In order to win the fight against both, the coronavirus and the infodemic, media organizations have their part to play, too.
RESOURCES FOR JOURNALISTS:
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center:
A useful resource for journalists covering traumatic situations:
AFP Fact Check: