Journalists around the world are striving hard to keep people informed during these testing times. Despite recurring attempts by authorities to clampdown and monitor the press through various restrictions, the media has managed to be vigilant in dealing with the corona crisis. As the pandemic strides towards its peak, the role of the fourth estate is more crucial now than ever before.
However, given the risk that goes hand in hand with the watchdog role, it is essential that journalist take necessary precautions in combating this invisible enemy. The ‘Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ), has issued a safety advisory to all those who are covering the coronavirus outbreak. Here are some important safety pointers.
- To minimize the risk of exposure, wherever possible, phone or online interviews should be carried out rather than in person.
- Older people and individuals with underlying health conditions are considered high risk. If you fall into such categories, you should not participate in any assignment that puts you in direct contact with the general public.
- Even the most experienced journalists may struggle psychologically when reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak. Management should check in on their journalists on a regular basis to see how they are coping, and to offer guidance and support if and when necessary.
- Maintain a minimum of at least 2 meters distance with everybody, being especially careful around those showing any signs or symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing. Avoid shaking hands, hugging and/or kissing
- Try to stand at an angle to a subject during an interview rather than face-on, always maintaining the recommended 2 meters or more distance.
- Wash your hands regularly, properly, and thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds at a time using hot water and soap. Use anti-bacterial gel or wipes if hot water and soap is not available. Ensure hands are dried in the appropriate way.
- Always try to interview people in an outside space. If you do need to interview indoors, select a location with some kind of airflow.
- Microphone covers should be disinfected and washed at a high temperature with detergent at the end of every assignment.
- Use low cost earpieces wherever possible and treat them as disposable, particularly for guests. Wipe down and disinfect all earpieces before and after use.
- Always decontaminate all equipment with fast-acting antimicrobial wipes, followed by thorough disinfection.
- Safely putting on and taking off any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as disposable gloves, face masks, protective aprons/overalls/bodysuits, and disposable shoe covers etc., requires the strict observance of and adherence to best safety practices. Here are a few guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Be aware that journalists may face increased levels of online hostility in relation to their reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak. Review CPJ’s best practice for protecting yourself against attacks.
- Governments and tech companies are increasingly using surveillance as a way to track the spread of COVID-19. This includes the NSO Group, which created Pegasus, a spyware that has been used to target journalists, according to Citizen Lab. Civil liberties groups are becoming concerned about how these surveillance techniques will be used to target people after this health crisis is over.
- Be aware of a potentially heavy-handed response from the police relating to COVID-19 lockdown measures, such as physical assault and the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
- Journalists in countries with an authoritarian regime should be alert to the threat of detention, arrest, and/or deportation when reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak
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