Author: Almaz MAHMUD
Informed means armed. Apparently, with the growing number of infection cases amid the global coronavirus pandemic, grows the demand for accurate and timely information about the development of the situation, as people try to protect themselves and their loved ones from an invisible enemy. Meanwhile, the swift development of social networks exacerbates the intangible battle between reliable and fake news. Our guest today is the Secretary General of the European Alliance of News Agencies, Alexander Ion GIBOI, who shares his views on the responsibility of the media in the current situation and how the world press has performed during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has already shifted from risk communication to crisis communication. International crisis communication is continuing throughout the world. What is the role of the media in this issue?”
“The media was always the go-to for people whenever a crisis appeared during history. That happened even in the early beginnings of mass-media, when the concept itself was not existing, but the manifestation, the action itself, was there. So, naturally, during this pandemic the media holds a key role of keeping the public accurately informed. There was a reported increase in circulation and audiences and website visits for all types of media starting with the first weeks of the pandemic, and that is still continuing, even if at lower levels. This means that there is huge responsibility on the shoulders of newsrooms now, even more than in ‘usual’ times.
“But I think it is still to be seen if this is only a “bubble” type of growth, or a stable one, into the future. People are consuming more news in general during this pandemic, they are staying home more, so therefore they have more time for TV, for example, or for reading a newspaper or magazine. If these habits will remain after the pandemics has finished, it is still to be observed.”
“Can the European media inform the public enough about the pandemic?”
“I trust that European media is up to the challenge, with all the financial difficulties that might arise during the following months. Journalists are aware of their role in society, and now more than ever I see very dedicated professionals providing extremely valuable insight for their public. Even while working from home, as is the case for example for my colleagues, the news agencies which are members of the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA).”
“Fake news usually have a tendency to prevail during emergency situations. How would you rate the proportion of fake news to reliable news?”
“I think that we’re constantly spectators of this battle between false news and the truth. And, unfortunately, this will be a long fight, in my opinion. Also unfortunately, during this pandemic, the levels of disinformation attempts have rocketed sky-high, like never before. And this can have a terrible effect on our societies. But, on a more optimistic note, I also think that the public is becoming more and more selective about the news it consumes. The professional fact-checkers are really doing their job and that is helping a lot. But not only the public has to suffer from disinformation campaigns, but even private companies, states, and societies as a whole. And I think it is everyone’s job, to a bigger or lesser extent, to counter disinformation. We all can play our part in making news more trustworthy, by actively selecting our sources and by denouncing the fakes. From my experience, as an example, news agencies play a huge part in this fight, being at the basis of news gathering all over the world. And I honestly think that news agencies and their journalists should be supported by shareholders (if they are private news agencies), or by states (if they are public or state news agencies). Insuring the independence of news agencies provides quality news to other media who rely on them, and therefore to the public itself, directly or indirectly.”
“Is there any interesting research and analysis in the media about the pandemic?”
“There are constantly new studies being published all over the world, but the interested researcher or regular reader should focus mostly on studies which target cases applicable to their own societies. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, The Niemen Lab, The Columbia Journalism Report are all and always very useful resources.”
“What are your suggestions?”
During this pandemic I think we should keep things as simple as possible. People should follow official and trustworthy sources for getting their information. The World Health Organisation is the most important source of information about the evolution of the pandemic, and offering the most trustworthy medical advice about this topic. I am not sure that following other countries’ examples is the best way to go forward, because each country has its specific situation to tackle, and what works for one might not work so well for another. Therefore I think each country should find its own way of fighting this new virus.
“What should journalists prefer during such crisis: to release more news about the pandemic in order to urge the people to protect themselves, or to disseminate information which reduces tensions as not to trouble the society?”
“In my opinion, journalism shouldn’t have to be in the position to decide between the two. In theory, if a journalist follows the truth, that would be the only helpful option for the public.”