Greater collaboration among different stakeholders has been cited as key in addressing health-related mis- and disinformation, as well as strengthening the capacity of journalists to report more accurately and effectively on health issues.
This was the main recommendation which emerged among 83 journalists, communicators and bloggers from 14 African countries who successfully completed a media training course than ran from June to August 2021. Journalists from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal participated in the training.
What I liked the most about this training was translating health science into a simple language. For me, this was the most illuminating topic. I am now equipped with a number of simplified terms to use in the context of COVID-19 reporting.
Stephen Chinyama, journalist at Power FM in Zambia
The course was organized by UNESCO’s Addis Abba Office, ISAAA AfriCenter and Africa Check with support from UNESCO-EU funded project #CoronavirusFacts: Addressing the ‘Disinfodemic’ on COVID-19 and UNESCO Multi-donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists.
The course, which focused on COVID-19 and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), took place virtually as a series of six interactive sessions, and was hosted under the auspices of the Africa Life Science Knowledge (ALSK), a web-based platform developed within the framework of the UNESCO-EU project. The platform helps to bridge the widening gap between science and society through timely interventions on various types of misinformation on innovations in agriculture, food and nutrition, health, and the environment.
While emphasising the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, the Head of the Division of Policy, Health Diplomacy and Communication at the Africa CDC, Benjamin Djoudalbaye praised the media for playing a key role in provision of reliable COVID-related information to the public. He called on partners to join efforts in building a designated online resource library for good practices in journalism, including scientific sources for myth, conspiracy theory or rumour debunking during epidemics.
One of the most important roles journalists play during pandemics is to provide clarity when there is so much uncertainty. They provide the needed contexts and nuances, and break down complicated concepts for non-experts,” said Dr. Djoudalbaye.
Benjamin Djoudalbaye, Africa CDC
Katrin Hagemann, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation in Kenya, welcomed the initiative. She underscored the critical role that the EU has played in supporting the most vulnerable communities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and emphasised that fact-based, fair, and balanced information and analyses are key ingredients to counter fake news.
Today, we are celebrating the fact that more and more journalists in different African countries have received quality training on fact-checking health information and communicating science, thanks to our partnership with UNESCO. This is the reason why the EU decided to support independent journalism and sensitive reporting worldwide, training journalists through a number of programmes.
Katrin Hagemann, European Union Delegation in Kenya
While thanking the support from EU, Yumiko Yokozeki, Director of UNESCO’s Addis Ababa Liaison Office to AU and UNECA, highlighted that through this initiative UNESCO has strengthened its partnership with the Africa CDC, ministries of health, academia, scientists, media partners and fact-checkers. It will continue leveraging its partnership with ISAAA AfriCenter and Africa Check to support community media sector that has the capacity to reach the widest audience in remote areas through their local languages.
Africa Check Deputy Director, Retha Langa reiterated the need for collaborative efforts in tackling misinformation and enhancing media reporting on health. According to him, as a fact-checking organization, Africa Check cannot tackle misinformation alone. Therefore, one of the key outcomes of the training is enhanced knowledge and confidence on reporting about the impact of COVID-19 on NCDs as demonstrated through positive feedback from the beneficiaries.
The official closing of the training provided an opportunity to present the Africa Life Science Knowledge (ALSK) portal, through which journalists are able to get trainings and capacity building to help them to thoroughly investigate, comprehensively interrogate, and fully understand science and health-related issues before reporting on them.
About the #CoronavirusFacts project
Based on the central tenet that information is the opposite of disinformation, the UNESCO project #CoronavirusFacts leverages the pivotal role of freedom of expression and access to information to address information needs in times of COVID-19 and to tackle the massive wave of disinformation which threatens to impact democracy, sustainable development and stability around the world. Funded by the European Union, the project which has activities both at the global level, in four regions and in nine countries, supports professional, diverse and independent media’s capacity to report on the pandemic; strengthens local fact-checking organisations to debunk misinformation; and empowers youth and other citizens to critically process what they read and hear linked to COVID-19 through training in media and information literacy. Due to unprecedented challenges for the media and digital technology sectors, UNESCO has created a Resource Center of selected responses to COVID-19.
To learn more, visit: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/disinfodemic/coronavirusfacts