The news in media has been a macabre of horrors and the easiest possible way for a person to remain sane in such perilous times has been to avoid media reports.
From a number of pyres queuing the crematoriums to endless faces in parts of the country gasping for breath in the national capital, Covid19 has certainly left its mark and media has now been assigned with the massive task of chronicling and reporting such events.
But perhaps in the face of it all, one wonders if only there has been some ethical line that would have been set up for the media in the face of such unprecedented situation.
Last year at the peak of the virus invading the world, media was quite at a loss. Its role wandered between reporting on the different hypothesis of the origin of the virus along with covering the manner its spread across the different continents and reporting the success stories to major behavioural mistakes of the society.
Enter the second year of the pandemic and nothing much seemed to have changed. The media now has to irrevocable assume a responsible role in news dissemination.
According to Professor Chris Frost, Chair of National Union of Journalists’ Ethics Council, a good journalism can entertain, but should not be just entertainment; but good journalism’s main role is to inform and educate and there’s nothing like a national emergency to underline why this is true.
This clearly brings out to light that the way the media should behave in terms of reporting the pandemic should not only be about touching the reader’s emotion but rather understanding why the reader needs to know that news.
Zeroing down on Criteria’s for media’s role
According to ‘The Ethical Journalism Network’, a journalist should a. Stick to the Facts, b. Practice Accountability, c. Check Use of Terminology, d. Show Humanity, e. Challenge Hate, f. Practice Duty of Care and g. Avoid Social Stigmatisation and Stereotyping.
The journalists should primarily stick to facts. For instance exaggerating or generalizing the numbers or the cases would simply lead to panic. In fact most people suffer from anxiety disorder primarily due this blanket statements made by the media.
Many a times, one witnesses that certain terms are very loosely used by the media. This could lead to serious misinterpretation. For instance there is difference between co-morbidity, life threatening diseases, terms of the different medicines among others.
Journalists should report on individuals who have recovered, showing human tales of resilience victory. It is often a positive story that motivates others to maintain resilience.
Such positive tales often provides a balm to those who suffer from mental anxiety. Media should often reflect the inspirational stories of frontline warriors battling it through and emerging victorious and those who have fought the virus maintaining their dignity.
Careful illustration of the virus along with simple terminologies would provide an easy access to information for all groups of people. Fear or disillusion related to the virus must be done away with and individuals must be encouraged to use the available medical services when necessary removing all forms of stigma.
Journalism is essential during the crisis, but should not put the health, including mental health, of journalists, editors, or sources at risk. Management must lead by example and encourage individuals to step back and take a break and recover
Media and embedded journalism
Another aspect that media needs to take into account is that while giving out information it should make efforts to filter fake news, conspiracy theories and apocalyptic prophecies.
Media should be transparent and understand that every news that is disseminated should have to have a proper source. Simply quoting aggrieved people or parties in power or opposition would lead to subjective reporting.
It is often during the times of such national emergency that media is often found exercising embedded news.
Often, centralization of information about the pandemic by governments and international bodies with over-dependence on ‘expert analysis’ leads to nationalistic discourses. In such a scenario media ends up being a public relations medium and news could be largely filtered.
The current time is a historical moment for different reasons and media has a mammoth role to play. For future reference the role that media entails would be found in textbooks, hence as obvious with great power comes great responsibility.
Media which has this power should also exercise complete responsibility of being the connecting medium in all forms.
(The author, Dr Anupa Lahkar Goswami, is an assistant professor at Communication and Journalism department, Gauhati University)