GPU Issues Safety, Reporting Guidelines for Journalists

Saikou Jammeh, SG, GPU

By Nelson Manneh

Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, Journalist from different media outlets have picked up the responsibility of updating their followers on the day by day situation report of the virus in the country and beyond, as people need more accurate and reliable information now more than ever. As the world fights the global pandemic, people rely on journalists to provide them with such unsullied life-saving informative and educative stories.

It is for this reason that the Gambia Press Union (GPU) noted that while journalists have an obligation to keep people informed and educated in these extraordinary times, it is equally very important for them to observe all safety measures in order to stay alive to tell their stories. The country has registered a significant number of Journalists confirmed to have the novel virus and Media Chiefs have started laying plans for their Journalist to start working from home, in order the save their lives and that of others.

Saikou Jammeh, Secretary-General of The GPU in a statement recently issued by his Union, said since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and its emergence in The Gambia, Media Houses and reporters have been working under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances to save lives, by keeping the people informed and educated of the pandemic and by holding Government to account.

“As frontliners, reporters have also been reporting from treatment centres, the airport and land borders and many other potential hotspots without adequate protective equipment and disinfectants,” he said; that the Union is proud of these enormous sacrifices and calls on the public and Government to support journalists whose work is crucial in curbing the spread of the pandemic and saving lives.

“We equally call on Media Houses and journalists to utilize the Media Advisory prepared by the GPU, as key guidance on safety of journalists during the pandemic,” The GPU Secretary-General said. Continuing, Jammeh said Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures; that Newsrooms all over the world are adopting strict policies that have seen major adjustments on news gathering and reporting, including working from home policies and the use of online tools like Skype, to report the news; that

Journalists and media workers in The Gambia are advised to consider safety and reporting tips on the coronavirus outbreak; that if any Journalist is using a microphone, they should use the directional microphone from a safe distance; that if they use recorders, they should maintain a safe distance and disinfect their recorders and microphone sponge after every use.

‘‘Consider covering your microphone or voice recorder with a plastic which should be safely disposed of after every use and use protective gear if working in and around a hospital or a quarantine facility,’’ he said; that if one develops coronavirus-like symptoms, they can call the Toll-free Number: 1025, to notify emergency health services and as well inform their editors and colleagues.

“Newsrooms should consider introducing work-from-home policies. If there is need for staff to work from the office, only a few essential staff should be allowed, and they should enforce social distancing.

Newsrooms should endeavour to provide health insurance policies for reporters sent on assignments in high-risk places like quarantine facilities, or to places known to have recorded a high number of cases,” the GPU Guideline states.

Care For Face Masks

‘‘Newsrooms should provide face masks for use when necessary. “If you wear masks, please dispose of them after use. If they are cloth or reusable masks, please wash after every use,” the GPU Guideline states.

Online Safety

‘‘Be aware of phishing emails. Do not open suspicious emails and do not download attachments from such emails. Journalists are advised not just click on any COVID-19 related links; some might take you to sites that infect devices with malware. Avoid clicking on social media links to strange websites. You might face online trolling, bullying or even threats relating to your coverage of COVID-19. Discuss with your editors on how to handle such when they arise,” the GPU Guideline states.

‘‘Journalists are advised when visiting Gambian borders, to do a risk assessment by checking what possible harm you might face including risks of contracting the coronavirus, car accidents, and possible hostile persons. Take along all the supplies you will need including a travel-size hand sanitizer, liquid soap, a bottle of water and tissue papers. Avoid street foods. Take along a soft drink(s) and high energy packaged foods like chocolate bars/digestive biscuits. Always wash hands before eating,” GPU advised Journalists. Your family might be concerned about your work during this time, consider setting up a conversation between your concerned family member and your editor. Assignment editors should avoid sending reporters to a quarantine facility/zone without protective gears. Freelance journalists too should take note of this. Disinfect gadgets like microphones, recorders, cameras etc. Disinfectant sprays may be available in pharmacies and supermarkets. Journalists are advised to avoid street foods. Take along a soft drink(s) and high energy packaged foods like chocolate bars/digestive biscuits. Always wash hands before eating,’’ the GPU Guideline further states.

Writing Stories

The GPU Guideline further advised Journalist to be aware of misinformation and avoid reporting on rumours and suspected cases; that they add to spreading fear and anxiety.

“Journalists should only report on rumours to achieve one of two objectives: To prove that it is true, to dismiss it as a lie. If any Journalist cannot confirm a rumour as true or dismiss it as a lie, do not report on it and to report on all confirmed cases. For official information on the coronavirus, use data from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. Cite official information only on verified social media accounts of the Ministry of Health and the WHO. Use health experts to analyze figures and patterns and explain these in the context and language that people will understand. Avoid identifying patients or suspects in photos, by name and addresses and those of their relatives or colleagues. If the patient(s) announced their status, or are involved in awareness advocacy on the coronavirus, you can quote them. While reporting on new cases, GPU advised Journalist not to forget to keep the public reminded on how to avoid contracting the virus – use advise from the Ministry of Health, the WHO and recognised health experts and institutions like the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia. Maintain media’s watchdog role and find out and report on what is happening to people who contracted the virus and those in quarantine? How are their cases (suspected and confirmed) being managed? What sort of medication are they receiving? Where are they being held and under what conditions? How many isolation centres there are? What are the conditions in these centres? How many beds are available? How are COVID-19 funds being handled and distributed? Look for lapses and inadequacies in government preparedness, and also reckless behaviour that exposes people to possible infections,’’ the GPU Guideline states.

In The Field

‘‘When Journalists are in the field GPU advised them to avoid press conferences and other events, ask to be sent press statements or request phone interviews or emailed responses to questions and take into account that the government has banned public gatherings. If you must be at a press conference physically, do observe all requisite prevention measures to and from the press conference, and during the press conference. Journalists should discuss with their editor what plans they have if you fall ill on assignment. Avoid using public transport, arrange to travel in an office car or hire a taxi. Journalists are urged to avoid travelling to affected countries or regions. If you must travel, adhere to the Ministry of Health and WHO instructions on prevention and to check on existing travel bans and purchase refundable tickets. Have a contingency plan in place. Do not travel if you feel ill. Check on the visa situation for your destination. Call up the embassy or consulate to enquire about the issuing of visas. Some countries are not allowing visitors,” the GPU Guideline stated.