The African Editors Forum (TAEF) on has launched two major resources on the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on African journalism and journalists through which it seeks to provide safety advice for reporting during COVID 19 as well as numerous other infectious diseases and give some insights on how African journalists may best protect themselves in future’
One of the resources is titled Reporting at a Distance: The Impact of COVID-19 on Journalists and Journalism in Africa. It represents the culmination of a qualitative study conducted in sixteen African countries from the five regions of Africa: North, Southern, West, Eastern and Central Africa. The study was informed by international trends prevalent in media revealed by research. Interviews were conducted in the selected countries and were subjected to thematic analysis to discover the common themes in the diverse media landscapes represented in the sample.
The experience common to almost all participants is that it was difficult to report in the field – hence the name of the report and it was difficult to get access to sources, particularly at the start of the pandemic. There were financial and official constraints that served to frustrate journalists attempts to get sources and verify stories.
The difficulty in getting sources was not the only frustration journalists felt, in fact almost everyone detailed various stressors that the pandemic had delivered. The fear of infection and transmission to loved ones was constant. And for many the constant gnawing of financial insecurity, which was something that many interviewees faced. Many had been subject to job losses, pay cuts, or delayed and inadequate allowances for working costs.
With these and other stresses there were typically no formal institutional support available, neither financial or psychological, and sometimes little understanding. The journalists had to rely on other sources of support in the form of friends, colleagues and relationships within communities.
The difficulties that individual journalists experienced had impacts in terms of the sector as a whole and their ability to deliver information. There was interference with movement and intimidation, which necessarily limited the voices and experiences that could be conveyed through content. In some cases, there was censorship. Simultaneously, misinformation permeated both news media and to a greater extent, social media. With closures of outlets, there were fewer owners of media and less content diversity. Yet there were also novel approaches to distributing news content and
changed practices as a result of the pandemic that were, or could prove to be, more effective, such as fact checking and online meetings.
TAEF took cognizance of the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching impacts for all economic sectors but pointed out that, as front-line workers, it has had acute impacts on journalists, with their financial, physical and electronic safety and security being challenged, leading to poorer news content and impacting their capacity to fulfill their role as they should in reporting in an emergency of this nature.
The Forum noted that while the media have been hamstrung, misinformation and disinformation have proliferated online, which have led to countless infections and even deaths with journalists struggling to deal with the tide of falsehoods.
The above are some of the findings of the report: The Impact of COVID-19 on Journalists and Journalism in Africa, which was continent wide, the first of its kind and funded by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).
The second report, The Safety Guide for Journalists Covering Pandemics in Africa, and it provides safety advice, not only for reporting during Covid, but on numerous other infectious diseases.
The guide provides some insights on how African journalists may best protect themselves going forward, while the report maps the challenges experienced by the media and proposes solutions for sustaining good journalism in the continent.
The Safety Guide for Journalists covering Pandemics in Africa was co-funded by UNESCO’s Multidonor Programme on Freedom of Expression and the Safety of Journalists (MDP) and the #Coronavirusfacts project supported by the European Union.
TAEF chairperson, Jovial Rantao said: “TAEF is not only happy to provide the study, which will be a necessary tool for journalists and researchers. The guide will be a useful weapon in the arsenal of the media as they cover pandemics.”
Dr Sandra Roberts who authored the research report, said: ‘Not one of the journalists interviewed in the fifteen participating countries, spread out in all regions of Africa, was left unaffected by the pandemic.
One of the key challenges of the pandemic has been the ability and in some cases the tendency of governments to restrict the movement of journalists and pose a risk to their safety.
Speaking on her experience, a female journalist in Zimbabwe said “Every time there is a roadblock, you then have to produce your ID, you then have to produce a letter … and sometimes they had to verify that…People were told no, go back, you can’t proceed.”
The journalist continued to explain the increased surveillance, especially during lockdowns, meant that journalists’ own, and their sources’, safety could be compromised.
Dr Adedamola Adetiba, co-author of The Safety Guide for journalists covering pandemics in Africa, said: “The guide is a resource material for journalists, and anyone interested in reporting during health emergencies in Africa.”
Dr. Roberts said, “The changes in the sector present an opportunity as there is now a pool of un- and underemployed journalists, whose talents can be utilised in a potentially industry-changing way.”