#COVID-19: Veteran journalist shares practical tips for pandemic coverage

VETERAN journalism, Bill Hinchberger shared practical steps that journalists can use when covering pandemics such as the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday. In a webinar conducted via Zoom  last Tuesday, Pasis based Hinchberger implored journalists to turn to journalism basics when confronted with challenges that come with novel situations such as pandemics.

(Click HERE To access Zoom Webinar presentation)

By a Correspondent

“There is a distinction between us doing good journalism and what powerful people including politicians and people think about it,” said Bill.

Sometimes we do good journalism and then the information is unfavourable to the government and they don’t like it and then the attacks come because we actually did our job… the best best practice is to do your job- go back to the basics.”

He encouraged publishers and journalists to work together and also stay in touch with international organizations such as Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists. “All these organizations have regional representatives, search out these representatives so that they know who you are and where you are.”

Hinchberger, whose participation was made possible by the State Department African Regional Services, spoke about the use of language and challenged journalists to explain scientific language and bring it close to ordinary people as possible.

“We need to be to be very careful when we talk to experts whether there were scientists whenever they’re going to use their jargon,” said Hinchberger.  “One of the ways to make it interesting and useful to people is to focus on the human side,” he added sharing examples. He also shared best practices in the use of language as well as available resources for verifying information about the pandemic.

“We are rethinking things at this point in time (including) relationships with our families, friends, and other people. It’s time to rethink what we are doing as journalists,” noted Hinchberger.

The seminar was organized by the HealthTimes with support from the Embassy’s Public Affairs Section and was meant to increase media understanding of pandemic coverage during a time when coronavirus is making it difficult for journalists to access information.

On April 20, Zimbabwe High Court judge Justice Manzunzu ordered the police and other law enforcement agencies charged with enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown not to arrest, detain or interfere “in any unnecessary way” with the work of journalists. The ruling followed an urgent chamber application that was filed by MISA Zimbabwe (first applicant), and journalist Panashe Makufa (second applicant), against the arrests and harassment of journalists by police officers during the lockdown.

The COVID-19 pandemic, declared as such by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020 has spurred countries to action, including the United States.

Speaking during the webinar, Doug Johnson, Deputy Country Coordinator at the Zimbabwe office of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) , said the United States had so far pledged US$6.2 million to Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 response. “In addition, our past support to laboratory and surveillance strengthening and even human resources strengthening are now providing much of the foundation for the COVID-19 response in Zimbabwe,” said Johnson.

“At PEPFAR, our main focus right now at this time is on protecting the gains from the HIV response and ensuring that people living with HIV in Zimbabwe have the supplies they need- have the 3 to 6 months of treatment drugs  that they still remain safe from COVID-19,”  he added.

Marissa Scott, U.S. State Department French Language Spokesperson & Director of the Regional Africa Media Hub in Johannesburg, told participants that the United States has committed more than $100 billion dollars over the past 20 years towards public health on the African continent and trained over 285,000 health care workers.

“With PEPFAR alone over 18 million lives have been saved in 18 years; and now in the fight against COVID19 that commitment continues.”

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