Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, media practitioners across the world have faced unprecedented challenges in engaging and informing the citizens and public about the ongoing global health crisis. There has been an increased risk of false information about the vaccines, cures for the virus, wild conspiracy theories on the origin of the virus, and harmful health advice disseminated on various media platforms, especially social media.
In response to these challenges, and to empower media practitioners – to stay safe and generate ethical and truthful content, – UNESCO supported a series of virtual capacity-building workshops targeting journalists on health reporting and safety while covering the pandemic in Eastern Africa.
The training was held between 7 to 15 October 2021 and was facilitated by Africa Centre for People Institutions and Society (ACEPIS) in close partnership with World Health Organization (WHO) and Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) and funded by European Union as part of the ongoing #Coronavirus Facts project to address the ‘disinfodemic’ on COVID-19.
The series of virtual training targeted 278 media practitioners drawn from 149 media organizations across –Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda. These included journalists, bloggers, influencers and online content creators from private sector media houses, community radios, universities, and civil society.
While giving his opening remarks, Mr. Sergio Cecchini, Information Management Officer, and Coordinator of the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) at World Health Organisation (WHO) informed participants that the COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by another form of pandemic related to the overproduction of information on the pandemic. This, he says, has affected the ability of governments, national agencies/institutions, civil society organizations, and academia to deploy health interventions to counter and respond to the impact and spread of the virus.
He said: “Such joint collaboration and engagements provide an opportunity for various actors to share best practices, experience and also challenges. This is the most effective way to counter the spread of misinformation and disinformation. It is important that we join expertise, skills and also networks to timely detect misinformation to define strategies and tactics to counter it”.
This is the most effective way to counter the spread of misinformation and disinformation
Mr. John Okande, UNESCO National Programme Officer for Communication and Information Sector in Eastern Africa informed participants of their important role in reporting responsibly, staying physically and mentally safe, healthy, and countering disinformation and misinformation related to the pandemic. “UNESCOs support to this training represents our continued commitment to providing more opportunities for capacity building of media practitioners and other actors to report and disseminate authentic and factual content related to the pandemic while at the same time ensuring their personal and physical safety during their work”, he said.
During the workshop, participants reported that the training have provided them with both knowledge and the opportunity to network and share experiences with their peers in the region.
Ms. Celestine Awirema, a journalist from Rwanda indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all sectors including journalism, and changed the way they used to report stories and their editorial practices, and a good reminder to journalists that their intervention in the battle to fight disinformation and misinformation related to COVID-19 is crucial.
Ms. Emily Atieno Athung’a, a radio journalist from Dala FM in Kenya: “I have learned a lot from this training particularly regarding physical and mental safety of journalists during this public health crisis; ethics of journalism practice, principles of journalism practice, and responsible reporting. I will now utilise this gained knowledge and skills to promote quality reporting and also to counter false information during this crisis.” She said.
“No story is worth the life of any journalist. I will work to reflect on my operating environment to reduce exposure and use some of the standard operating procedures shared during the training.” Concluded Ms. Nansikombi Joan, a journalist from Uganda.
Ms. Rachel Olpengs, Programmes Manager at Africa Centre for People Institution and Society (ACEPIS) thanked UNESCO, WHO, and AIRA, among other partners, for the resources, partnership and continued support towards the success of this intervention in Eastern Africa. She encouraged participants to use the gained knowledge to improve the way they prepare, cover, and disseminate content while ensuring more professionalism, responsibility, and accountability in their work.
The Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) is a WHO-hosted network that brings together governmental and intergovernmental operational agencies as well as non-State actors/entities to mobilise in response to the COVID-19 Infodemic and to the infodemic threat in general.