Debunking fake news, disinformation in COVID-19 reportage


THE media continues to play a pivotal role by informing, educating and entertaining the masses even amidst COVID-19.
But even as journalists carry out their work, they should not compromise media standards.
In meeting the above objectives, the media, among other things, has a role to debunk fake news and disinformation in coronavirus reportage.
On July 10 this year, the European Union (EU), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRA) organised a Zoom meeting for community radio stations on the continent, and the resource persons included Panos Institute Southern Africa executive director for Zambia, Vusumuzi Sifile, Zimbabwe’s Zim Fact editor-in-chief Cris Chinaka and Doreen Mwasi, assistant team leader for Koch FM radio station in Kenya.
The topic of the discussion was ‘Debunking fake news and disinformation in COVID-19 reportage’.
Mr Chinaka said the media should not allow misinformation to ruin the masses.
“People are looking to the media to debunk some of the information and provide accurate information,” he said.
He observed that the need for capacity building does not only apply to community radio stations but all media houses.
His appeal to media practitioners is that false news needs to be debunked consistently and journalists have to find some relevant packaging system for provision of useful information.
He said there are a number of myths surrounding COVID-19 and there are already people claiming to have herbs that can cure the disease.
Mr Chinaka says it is the duty of media personnel to transmit only information that can be verified, and this can be achieved by networking with various sources of information.
“When dealing with COVID-19, for instance, you need to network with various personnel in order to come up with accurate stories,” he said.
On concerns by some journalists that some information is transmitted before being verified by authorities, Mr Chinaka says there is no excuse for not verifying facts.
“We must plug into each other’s strength when fact-checking. We also need to build a wealth of credible sources. We need to understand the protocols around the world,” he said.
He observed that many citizens do not trust governments as exclusive sources of information, but was quick to point out that, for now, journalists have no choice but to rely on them for reports relating to COVID-19 cases.
The first option for journalists reporting COVID-19-related cases is to have a variety of contact persons, including health workers.
“Try other alternatives to get verification on stories. There is need for media practitioners to build a network of sources,” Mr Chinaka said.
He advises against quoting one prominent person but alternate quotable sources.
“For instance, instead of always quoting a minister of health, one can also quote a coordinator on COVID-19, the ministry’s spokesperson or permanent secretary,” Mr Chinaka advised. CLICK TO READ MORE

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