A man stands on the street outside a house using a mic on a long pole to record people speaking out of an upper window

Responsible Journalism: How the Media Can Unite Against COVID-19

June 23, 2020

(Internews in the Philippines was part of a joint initiative that held a webinar on responsible journalism during COVID-19)

By Eleanor Amarga Leyco-Chua

Every day, an individual is bombarded with thousands of information and there are countless news and information platforms that are readily available on the Internet. And now that we are going through a difficult ordeal having access to credible information matters the most.

Amid this Covid-19 pandemic, the work of journalists all over the world is to ensure that all the data and information about the virus and its repercussions are correct and reliable. The burden to properly inform the people has always been one of the duties of the media, whether there is a crisis or none.

To examine the role of media within the Covid-19 landscape and how organizations can collaborate better to eradicate the invisible enemy, a joint initiative between the Breakthrough ACTION at Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs and Internews Philippines, with support from USAID held a webinar—Responsible Journalism: Part of the Solutionwebinar—series on June 10 and 11 and gathered local journalists, communication specialists and health experts.

Award winning journalist Howie Severino who was one of the first media personalities that was diagnosed with Covid-19 kicked off the webinar and shared that journalists must balance the need to inform with the need to keep themselves safe. “We have to live for the next story,” said Severino.

Watch the webinar from Day 1:

Stressing the importance of objectivity in reporting he said that “The media [has to] give out a complete picture that includes the negatives and positives. We have to convey the fearsomeness of this because it’s not something you take lightly, but we also have a chance to turn our trauma into something transformative. We can do this through stories of survival and happiness.”

He also added that in maintaining a journalist’s objectivity it is also necessary to speak with more empathy.

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Tan, Professor of Anthropology and Philosophy in UP Diliman and Clinical Professor in UP Manila, said that by looking at various perspectives a reporter can improve the quality of reporting.

“There are preexisting economic and social problems that the media must address, such as unemployment, drop-in health services, and housing shortages. These issues were magnified during the lockdown, and journalists must connect the dots to paint a more accurate picture,” Dr. Tan said.

He also called for more purposeful storytelling beyond basic reportage. “Journalists are healers and givers of hope, too.”

Dr. Beverly Ho of the Department of Health (DOH), on the other hand, affirmed the significance of messages that are empowering and encouraging in the long term.

“Covid or no Covid, what we push for is for people to maximize their health so they can reach their full potential—economically, socially, and otherwise,” said Ho, DOH Health Promotion and Communication Services director, while adding, “We need people’s resilience as we move forward. The media has the power to change mindsets and fuel their motivation.”

Day 2 of the Responsible Journalism webinar series speakers were renowned journalist Ellen Tordesillas and Celine Samson of nonprofit news organization VERA Files. They emphasized the importance of fact-checking and debunking rumors. The discussions focused on fact-checking and fighting misinformation and fake news.

Watch the webinar from Day 2:

“The Internet has become a breeding ground for fake news even before the pandemic,” Tordesillas said. “At its worst, misinformation can endanger one’s health,” she added, referring to reports of citizens using dubious cures.

Samson, on the other hand, advised readers to be more discriminating when digesting news. “Keep an open mind, but always make sure to check and counter check.”

According to Floreen Simon, Training Director at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the bulk of the responsibility falls on the media to be more vigilant and journalists must be aware of the entire spectrum of a story.

“Know the science, know the politics, do the math,” she stressed.

When data dissemination falls short, DOH Executive Assistant to the Secretary Atty. Faith Laperal urged for more open collaboration. “The objective of our Covid response has always been to move beyond mere government efforts and reach out to the entire society,” she clarified. “We have always been open to feedback.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of challenges to everyone, from the issues of health—physical, mental, spiritual—finances, employment, relationship, among others, and in this trying times journalists can be a beacon of hope and empowerment through information. It is an opportunity for journalists to do  more than just writing and reporting but help in building public trust that will lead people toward a solution, as the Philippines continues the fight against Covid-19.

(Banner photo: Filipino journalist Howie Severino uses a boom mic to record voices from a safe distance. Credit: Severino)