The COVID-19 pandemic has turned into an unprecedented challenge for the entire world, affecting not only individuals’ health but also everything they do in their daily routines. It has also changed the years-old journalism practices forcing journalists to adopt new techniques and digital tools in their reporting and other related jobs.
It was a standard practice for reporters to go into the field to collect stories. COVID-19 pandemic confined them to their work stations at home. This sudden shift exposed them to new challenges mainly related to the infodemic of bad advice, baseless medical information, and sensationalist headlines. Several international news organizations and internet companies released tools to help journalists verify information; however, journalists working in developing countries like Pakistan required training specifically for them.
Realizing it, GNMI arranged a one day workshop on 6th October 2020 titled “To Counter Fake News, Propaganda & Disinformation Linked To Polio Amid Covid-19 Pandemic” for journalists working in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A total of twelve journalists from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were selected for the workshop. The first half of the training included lessons on identifying reliable sources in fact-checking, debunking viral misinformation, and deciding whether a statement is checkable. The second part was a bit scientific in nature and technique. It included information about the two viruses – poliovirus and SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 in human beings – and their transmission to help journalists debunk conspiracy theories about the viruses.
Senior journalist Tayyeb Afridi led the workshop sharing the experience he has gathered over the years with the participants. Hailing from the Federal administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, Afridi started her career as a local radio station journalist. He has worked with radio stations in Pakistan and the United States of America. He is also a former John S. Knight fellow at Stanford University.
Afridi started the workshop with an introduction session that helped to broke ice among the participants. He started by asking them about their understanding of fake news followed by a brief lecture on fake news, its origin, dissemination, effect of news operation and mass audience. He told participants how fake news affects people in developing countries who are more likely to believe conspiracy theories. Afridi also told them difference between disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation.
He then shared fact check tips with the participants that could help them in their work. Although Google and other platforms have introduced several fact check tools, most of them have been developed in Western media. Journalists in Pakistan often struggle dealing with these tools as sometimes they don’t help them. Afridi also took questions of participants before handing over the session to the guest speaker Dr Hafsah Muhammad.
Dr Muhammad told the participants about the Polio and Covid-19 viruses, their origin, and transmission. She guided them through the scientific facts that can provide strength to the stories focused on the diseases caused by the viruses.
At the end of the workshop, Afridi asked participants to read a few articles and see if they would share those in their reports or not, depending on the information they carried. The journalists identified fake news in the sample. They also shared how they can work on these stories to tell accurate information to their audiences.
This workshop was part of the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives that aims to support small-scale, high-impact projects in developing countries like Pakistan.