Sri Lanka, like most other countries in the world, is in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The country has been on lockdown status for over three weeks as the government, security and health authorities continue to do battle against the spread of this novel disease. While crises generally have the effect of bringing people together, recently however, distorted and false information that support racism has begun to circulate on social and mainstream media, undermining these efforts. Thus the Centre for Journalism and Education (CJE) fervently urges media institutions, journalists and media personalities/influencers to avoid discriminatory rhetoric, misinformation and disinformation when reporting on any and all matters related to the virus.
“Ethical journalism lies at the core of good journalism. Particularly at a time of unprecedented crisis, it is the responsibility of all individuals and institutions providing information to the public to adhere to the core principles of truth and accuracy, fairness and impartiality, humanity, accountability and independence,” the organisation stated.
CJE added that at stake however is more than journalism itself. “Attempting to blame a minority group of people for the spread of the disease in the nation is not only unfactual and unethical but also puts the whole country at risk. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the threat of misinformation related to the novel coronavirus pandemic an ‘infodemic’ as it poses a serious threat to public health. To quote the WHO Director-General, the stigma is more dangerous than the virus itself’,” the organisation said.
Reporting during a pandemic is no easy task and many good journalists put themselves at risk to provide clear, concise and uptodate information to the public. Others however, by forcing a fear-based response, are creating confusion, stigmatising an entire group of people, putting victims and their families at risk of violence, and distracting others from following the guidelines issued by the authorities. They are also working in direct contravention of the guidelines issued to the media by the Ministry of Health.
To assist in combatting this deadly epidemic, the Centre for Journalism and Education has created and made available educational material for journalists, media institutions and even media personalities/influencers to utilise when reporting on the pandemic.
Unlike humans, viruses do not discriminate, based on race or religion. Journalists, media institutions and media personalities/influencers, particularly at a time of crisis such as this, have a responsibility to report accurately in a manner that does not cause harm to an individual, community, or country. “Utilising fear to target a vulnerable group and divide a nation of people does not lead to a path of safety. Let’s work to ensure the health and safety of all peoples,” the Centre stated.
The Centre for Journalism and Education is dedicated to the development of journalism in Sri Lanka. A non-partisan and non-profit organisation, its aim is to create an ethical, innovative and sustainable journalistic practice across the island, because ‘good journalism leads to healthier societies’.