Reporting on COVID-19

Mis- and dis-information. Journalists who cover the coronavirus are faced with many challenges. At the heart of reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic is reliable information on the implications and spread of the virus. However, the current pandemic seems to be accompanied by an infodemic, a term referring to false claims, rumours and mis- and dis-information surrounding the coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, unsubstantiated information on COVID-19 has been spreading fast on social media, but in some cases has also been disseminated by governments. Disinformation connected to COVID-19 is dangerous, as ‘[i]t leads to citizens endangering themselves by ignoring scientific advice; it amplifies distrust in policy makers and governments; and it diverts journalists’ efforts towards reactive disproving of falsehoods instead of proactive reporting of new information’.[1] In some countries, however, dis-information is perpetuated by the government, leading to independent media having to take over the role of the government by transforming into public health information sources.[2]

Access to information. Many governments have taken measures that limit access to information held by public bodies relating to the pandemic and other crucial areas of public interest. This may be the case either because ensuring public access to information it is not seen as a priority, or because it is part of a strategy to limit criticism of poor decision-making, restrict human rights and hide corruption. However, it is imperative that the right to information is maintained during the emergency as much as possible. The right to information is crucial for ensuring public awareness and trust, fighting misinformation, ensuring accountability as well as developing and monitoring implementation of public policies aimed at solving the pandemic. See this report by ARTICLE 19 to learn more about the public’s right to know in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safety. In addition to being mindful on how to responsibly report on COVID-19, journalists also have to deal with safety risks that they may face whilst covering the pandemic. This may include the physical safety risk of being infected, as well as digital safety risks related to working from home and communicating with others from distance. Moreover, in carrying out their duty of delivering reliable information, journalists are often met with intimidation, harassment, internet interference and censorship, especially when they ask critical questions about the way their respective governments handle the pandemic. Furthermore, many governments around the world have called a state of emergency, allowing them to temporarily impose certain policies or suspend certain rights in the fight against the pandemic. The state of emergency can be used as a pretext to infringe upon citizens’ human rights and to hamper the work of journalists. One example is the implementation of measures criminalising the spread of fake or false information; while advertised as a measure to fight dis-information, it might be used to censor critical voices.

Gender. Another aspect to take into account is the fact that apart from the economic, political, and societal consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered marginalised groups, including women, even more vulnerable than before. Therefore, it is also imperative to represent women and other marginalised groups in media content.

Overview. The COVID-19 Response in Africa project aims to address misinformation through training journalists in COVID-19 reporting and fact-checking, as well as in community engagement and communication. Furthermore, the project also comprises interventions directly geared towards combating gender inequality in media content. The pages below provide more information about aforementioned elements of the project.


See below for a collection of resources on how to responsibly report on COVID-19 and to provide the spread of mis- and dis-information.


[1] UNESCO, Disinfodemic: Deciphering COVID-19 Disinformation
[2] Free Press Unlimited, COVID-19, Gender and Media