How We Will Meet the Coronavirus Challenge
The need for factual and fair reporting is more important than ever.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a global crisis of health and the economy – and of information. Rumour and misinformation, fake news and propaganda, spread even more quickly than the virus itself, undermining health strategies, sowing confusion, costing lives.
Amid the tragedy, the need for factual and fair reporting is more important than ever. Citizens need to be informed, officials need to be questioned, human stories need to be told.
Rumour and misinformation, fake news and propaganda, spread even more quickly than the virus itself, undermining health strategies, sowing confusion, costing lives.
While the international focus for now may be on the United States and the European Union, the varying responses – and the enormous risk – in the rest of the world are no less urgent. If ever the world faced one problem together, this – along with climate change – is it.
Local voices of independent media and civic groups around the world are therefore absolutely essential, but they face fresh and sharp challenges. How will the virus impact conflict zones, and especially those at particular risk such as refugees – and how can these issues be safely reported? How can reporting and engagement continue under social distancing and lockdown? What are the specific information and approaches essential to urgent health and public policy reporting? Will repressive regimes exploit the pandemic to crack down further on freedom of expression?
At IWPR, we have had to shutter our ten coordinating offices, and are working virtually. Yet our team of 150 around the world, and our dozens of partner organisations, continue to support vital local partners, independent media and forthright civic activists as they continue their efforts and in many cases pivot to cover the pandemic.
Through a series of research initiatives, IWPR is coordinating an international network of institutes, universities and other partners to monitor disinformation around the world and analyse trends and impacts around messaging on Covid-19.
Across Asia, we are working with a range of groups and individuals to strengthen community responses to news manipulation around the virus, and are supporting journalists and other opinion formers to investigate and report to regional audiences on the crisis and governmental responses.
Spanning the broad Southeast Europe and Eurasia region, we are assessing and comparing public health strategies, highlighting human impacts and holding governments to account for their emergency responses. (Armenia: Can Government Popularity Weather Covid-19?) We are tracking the impact of Russian disinformation in fuelling panic and seeding public distrust in national governments (Georgia: Is Russia Exploiting Coronavirus Fears?) or how the virus is impacting complex regional economic and social ties (Coronavirus Tests Central Asia’s Strength).
In former conflict areas, we have even found good news, with former political foes in the ethnically riven state of Bosnia and Herzegovina finally uniting for the common good (Bosnia: Coronavirus Forces Rare Moment of Unity).
In the Middle East and North Africa region, independent voices are also finding common purposes with official efforts. (Coronavirus Cannot Kill Our Spirit). In Iraq, IWPR’s longstanding network of journalists and leading opinion formers have dedicated themselves to supporting public health efforts. Indeed, in several countries in the region, civic activists are now cooperating with governments that only weeks ago were trying to supress their protests. (Iraqi Champions Fight Coronavirus Crisis).
In some Latin American countries, heads of state have been using their propaganda machines to spread disinformation about how individuals should tackle the virus, as well as their government's response. IWPR is supporting a coalition of independent media outlets in Latin America to coordinate coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure people get the most up-to-date and accurate information possible – including providing fact-checked information on infection levels and republishing key stories to ensure they reach as wide an audience as possible.
We’ve also partnered with a group of 15 social media influencers with broad youth appeal in their respective countries to develop online campaigns to ensure young people are also informed about how to best face the pandemic.
The suspension, for now, of in-person meetings is a loss. Only a few weeks ago, I participated in a remarkable seminar IWPR hosted in Cyprus for journalists and activists from across the Middle East, sharing experiences, providing training and information, extending support networks. As I was reminded first-hand, such personal connections are so powerful.
Like educational institutions worldwide, however, IWPR is working via video conferencing, online platforms and other dedicated technologies, sharing vital resources, monitoring health and safety, supporting those ill or otherwise affected and continuing intensive training, mentoring and content production. We have not, and will not, go away.
Part of the “exit strategy” from lockdowns and from the crisis as a whole must be free and fair information to empower and involve the global public – for now, and for the future, helping courageous local voices to drive change in their communities wherever they are.
The future will bring a new normal that cannot yet be confidently described. But with nearly three decades’ experience in dangerous environments, IWPR teams at the frontlines will stay the course, innovating creative and often courageous solutions to support independent local voices in challenging environments around the world.
It is truly one world now, and all our futures depend on it.
Anthony Borden is IWPR founder and executive director.