According to professional media organisations and bodies, journalists and media members are facing a huge amount of pressure and strain, often being potentially exposed to infection through interviews and the locations they find themselves working in
. At the time of the pandemic, they are not able to make a story from self-quarantine and they are facing the additional problem – the lack of medical personal protective equipment. The committee to Protect Journalist issued detailed advice for journalists covering COVID-19 which includes pre-assignment preparations, tips for avoiding infection in affected areas, travel planning and post-assignment cautions, and this is followed in Montenegro and across the Balkans.
Although the media face serious challenges and unprecedented circumstances, they must be aware of their role and responsibility in preserving public health. Famous international and domestic organisations and professional bodies have urged the media to report responsibly and avoid creating any unjustified panic or share discriminatory and racist comments. Professional bodies reminded
media and journalists of their role to provide citizens with verified, accurate and factual reporting, inviting media outlets to avoid sensationalism that could lead to panic and fear.
The examples presented in this paper have shown that not all media outlets in the Balkans have not refused to publish misinformation, and have not accordingly played a fair game. In order to contribute to fighting against the further spread of disinformation, we urge journalists to report responsibly on COVID-19, and follow the recommendations of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
● Journalists should invite only those individuals who are experts
in the medical field to comment on the health situation in order to contribute to quality and accurate information.
● Their reports must be based on official data
and information published by officials and credible sources – the World Health Organization, the Ministry of Health and the Institute for Public Health of Montenegro.
● Journalists and editors must rely on credible sources
only, and not let themselves be misled by right-wing media trying to spread anti-Western, anti-democratic and pro-Russian narratives hidden among coronavirus topics.
● Media outlets should support journalists in enforcing their skills for fact-checking
and recognizing propaganda
articles and pamphlets appearing as news reports, through additional educational programs and training.
● Journalists should cooperate with medical workers
and help them in combating coronavirus by protecting citizens from sensationalist news with no real information value.
● Journalists should also protect patients'
and other citizens' privacy, in line with the Code of Ethics.
Having in mind that our media community is polarized, this pandemic could be an additional impulse for our media outlets to contribute to the improvement of professional standards by means of developing self-regulation
. Journalists, editors, media ombudsman and professional media associations play an essential role in promoting professional standards and fact-checking as a future crucial segment of each newsroom.
Even though we are aware of the limited capacities in which they operate, we hope that media and journalists will find resources to verify all information and help combat coronaviruses.
On the other hand, we also believe that citizens play a crucial role in this fight. Therefore, we urge them to be cautious, read the news carefully and choose which media they trust, as well as choosing only credible sources.
Additionally, special attention should be paid to the "good-intentioned" advice and instructions for overcoming the crisis that spread in the form of viral messages via social networks and communication platforms.
In case they require support in verifying information, citizens should address their questions to the World Health Organization, the Ministry of Health and the Institute for Public Health of Montenegro, which have so far shown responsibility and accuracy in informing citizens, as well as to fact-checking platforms available in their country. For citizens from Montenegro - Raskrinkavanje.me
, Bosnia and Herzegovina - Raskrinkavanje.ba
, Serbia - Raskrikavanje.rs
and Fake News Tragač
, North Macedonia - Fighting Fake News Narrative
, Croatia - Faktograf.hr
and Slovenia - Razkrinkavanje.si
This regional network of fact-checking organisations from ex-Yugoslav countries created the COVID-19 Viber Community, as an additional credible point for coronavirus related information.