Kenyan Journalists Equipped with Guidelines and Safety Mechanisms for covering COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has hugely impacted media houses with effects ranging from dwindling revenues, layoffs of journalists, to reduced circulation. All stakeholders in the industry have a role to play in ensuring that their safety comes first. Safety and security of journalists, from both a health perspective, and protection from physical harm and harassment, are key to ensuring an informed and empowered citizenry, and for safeguarding media freedom.

It is in this regard that a virtual training workshop on safety guidelines and mechanisms for covering the COVID-19 pandemic was organized for 167 journalists, comprising 90 men and 77 women from 14 to 19 April 2021 by Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) with the support of UNESCO through its EU-funded project #CoronavirusFacts project to address the ‘disinfodemic’ on COVID-19  in conflict-prone environments in Kenya.

The four-day (4) day training strengthened capacities and equipped journalists with knowledge on safety guidelines and guidelines for covering the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya. It also provided them with a platform for experience sharing on safety challenges between the duty actors and duty bearers in Kenya in the exercise of their profession.

The media plays a critical role in the society and it is hugely depended on for its role in informing, educating and entertaining the public. During this COVID-19 pandemic, the mainstream media has been put on the spotlight as it continues to be the most trusted source of information, hence need for accuracy.

Mr. Churchill Otieno, President, Kenya Editors Guild

No story is worth dying for. Your personal safety and security are paramount. Protect yourself first then you will be alive to cover the story. Because if you are not alive that means there will be no story.

Ms. Pamela Sittoni, Executive Editor at the Nation Media Group

Ms. Anne Soy, Editor at BBC Africa facilitated a session on detecting and countering fake news and disinformation during COVID-19 pandemic, during which journalists were urged to strive to be factual, fair and accurate in their reporting and publishing of news online and offline.

If we are not accurate in our reporting, we will be doing disservice to the audience we are serving, particularly during this pandemic.

Ms. Anne Soy, Editor at BBC Africa

Participants were also exposed to practical ways of detecting fake news and react to them. They were further introduced to relevant platforms to consult to debunk false information, such as World Health Organization, Myth Busters, First draft, BBC Beyond Fake News and Reality check.

Besides, they were enlightened on the need regularly update themselves with new knowledge, definitions and meaning of scientific terms and concepts used to describe COVID-19 pandemic, so to ensure factual reporting and avoid misinformation and disinformation about pandemic.

Mr. Jasper Ombati, Assistant Inspector General in charge of training at the National Police Service, in response to a concern raised by participants on harassment of journalists by police, especially at the onset of dusk to dawn curfew across the country stated that he regretted the mistreatment meted out on journalists.

The police service had noted these trends by some officers and vowed to foster better working relations. We apologies for our shortcomings, and we as the police service are working on ways to improve our relations with the media particularly in this critical time and for the future.

Mr. Jasper Ombati, Assistant Inspector General in charge of training, National Police Service

Mr. Ombati further encouraged journalists to continue to seek information, while at the same time comply with stipulated government regulations to ensure an amicable working relationship between the police service, media and the general public in Kenya. “Journalists should always properly identify themselves with their official documentations as this greatly enable the police to easily identify and work with them.” He further stated that there is need for continuous engagement and collaborations with the media to create more elaborate strategies with journalists for a good foundation for mutual cooperation. “Regular interactions, dialogues, and meetings between journalists and police service are key in the effort to create understanding and harmony between us.”

Dr. Willis Akhwale, the Head of Task force on Covid-19 vaccine and Senior Advisor, Africa Leaders Malaria Alliance urged media to help vaccine rollout by helping people reduce fear amongst themselves.

We want to be sure there is consistent and accurate messaging in community engagements. We also want to ensure that information spread all across is the same -from the government to the community levels.

Dr. Willis Akhwale, Head, Task force Covid-19 vaccine & Senior Advisor, Africa Leaders Malaria A.

The journalists drawn from 36 counties appreciated being part of the training as it equipped them with requisite skills and knowledge that are vital for their journalistic duties during this pandemic. They said that the training also helped reminding them of their critical role in the fight against Covid-19 as they protect themselves while they serve their audiences.

This training has equipped me with the right skills and knowledge on safety and security mechanisms to enable me carry out my duties in a safe and professional manner. It has also reminded me of my important role in the fight against this pandemic in providing factual, reliable and verifiable information to the public.Ms. Ruth Masita, Participant from Pwani FM, Mombasa County

Mr. Peter Ikumilu, the acting Assistant Director at Communications Authority of Kenya, reminded journalists to operate within the established media code of conduct framework when carrying their day-to-day duties and in reporting on the on-going pandemic. He further urged journalists to acquaint themselves the programming code, which constitutes an all-inclusive guide of how to run their respective media programs.

Through this project, UNESCO will also support development of a small pocket booklet on safety guidelines with good practices on covering the COVID-19 pandemic in English and Swahili local languages that will be used as reference document for addressing the need to ensure the physical and psychological safety of journalists in Kenya.

Enhancing media and information literacy (MIL) competencies among youth organizations, and other stakeholders is a key action of UNESCO’s strategy to promote knowledge societies and foster the development of free, independent and pluralistic media and universal access to information and knowledge for good governance.

Originally published on Unesco website.