Actions to Support Media,
Enhance Access to Information,
and Leverage Digital Technologies in the Fight Against the Pandemic
Free and professional media, the right to access information, and digital technologies are playing a critical role in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNESCO is the UN agency with a specific mandate to promote “free flow of ideas by word and image”. It welcomes the immense efforts of communication and information communities to tackle the current COVID-19 crisis, including:
- sharing lifesaving information, debunking misinformation,
- strengthening the implementation of the fundamental right to information,
- leveraging the use of public interest media, ICTs and OER for e-learning, and connecting people online.
UNESCO is closely monitoring the impact of this crisis on media freedom, safety of journalists, and the fundamental right to access information.
In a context of unprecedented challenges for the media and digital technology sectors, UNESCO has created a “resource center” of selected responses to COVID-19.
It includes a collection of examples of actions related to communication and information made available for the purpose of:
- sharing practices,
- identifying priorities,
- facilitating partnerships,
- amplifying good practices,
- providing advice and technical assistance to governments and relevant national stakeholders, and
- fostering North-South, South-South, and triangular cooperation.
This "clearing house" provides a non-exhaustive list of illustrative examples. It will continue to evolve with the COVID-19 pandemic and the quick development of responses.
Some of these initiatives have been led or directly supported by UNESCO. They are labeled with an asterisk (*). Others are implemented by official partners or other relevant stakeholders.
For questions, comments, and information on additional initiatives please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Freedom of expression, safety of journalists and interrelated human rights
UNESCO, United Nations and Partners:
UNESCO and RSF's Safety guide for journalists: A handbook for reporters in high-risk environments aims at providing guidelines and practical advice for all those who risk their lives to bring information to the public. The handbook includes a useful chapter on safety precautions for journalists when covering epidemics.
COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement, guidelines developed by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide have made a Joint Call for Solidary, Unity and Action. They want to remind the world of the common threat we are now facing with the coronavirus, and express their concern with regards to the hate, racism and discrimination, people infected with the virus are facing. What the world needs most now are humanity, solidarity, kindness and compassion.
On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March), the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, called the States to take actions against the rising xenophobia and discrimination due the COVID-19 crisis.
- Safety Advisory for covering the coronavirus outbreak released by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
- English and Chinese-language resources for journalists covering the coronavirus epidemic, developed by the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma. This includes tips on covering disease, interviewing victims and survivors, and working with colleagues exposed to traumatic events.
- Call of UN human rights experts on States to not abuse emergency measures to suppress human rights. They urged States to avoid overreach of security measures in their response to the coronavirus outbreak and reminded them that emergency powers should not be used to quash dissent.
- Governments must promote and protect access to and free flow of information during pandemic, statement by International experts for freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
- Amnesty International statement on responses to COVID-19 and States’ human rights obligations. It examines the human rights concerns and challenges that often emerge as states respond to epidemics, and specifically to COVID-19.
- Access Now - More than 110 organizations from around the world issued a joint civil society statement to “ urge governments to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures any use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.
- COVID-19 - Media Freedom Monitoring: The International Press Institute (IPI) has developped a special section on its website entitled « COVID-19 - Media Freedom Monitoring ». Its purpose is to report all press freedom violations linked to COVID-19 crisis that are occuring in the world. All violations that have occured are thus referrenced, dy date and by country.
- Privacy International has developed a Tracking the Global Response to COVID-19 page. It will keep track of the measures taken by the States and which are now restricting people’s freedoms and human rights. It wants to make sure that all these emergency measures will be effective only during the time of the pandemic, and that they are also enforced only when necessary.
UNESCO, United Nations and Partners:
UNESCO’s Handbook on understanding and countering disinformation designed for journalism education and training. Collaboratively produced by international experts, it includes tools and exercises to support disinformation literacy and countermeasures relevant to the COVID-19 ’infodemic’. (*) This handbook is now available in 16 languages (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Bosnian, Macedonian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Indonesian, Malaysian, Tetum, Thai and Vietnamese) and 26 more translations are currently in progress (German, Italian, Albanian, Dutch, Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Greek, Georgian, Turkish, Farsi, Chinese, Hindi, Bengali, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Khmer, Burmese, Pashto, Urdu, Tamil, Kiswahili, Amharic, Igbo and Hausa).
UNESCO promotes media and information literacy to tackle disinformation, including the initiative “think before sharing”.
“Myth busters” for public health advice on COVID-19, produced by the World Health Organization
PortalCheck.org is the first digital platform in Latin America and the Caribbean aimed at collecting resources to face the effects of disinformation linked to the COVID19 pandemic in the region.
- YouTube has declared coronavirus a “sensitive topic”. Content related to COVID-19 which does not follow certain guidelines is demonetized or removed.
- Facebook has created a Coronavirus Information Center on top of its newsfeed. It includes real-time updates from national health authorities and global organizations such as the World Health Organization, and helpful articles, videos and posts about social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- Whatsapp has launched a WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub to provide simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, nonprofits, local governments and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate. The site also offers general tips and resources for users around the world to reduce the spread of rumors and connect with accurate health information.
- #CoronaVirus Facts Alliance launched by the International Fact-Checking Network.
- ARTICLE 19 has published a briefing on how states, the media and social media companies can help to combat COVID-19 (coronavirus) by committing to transparency, tackling misinformation and promoting authoritative health advice.
- The EU DisinfoLab makes available useful resources on the impact of Coronavirus crisis on disinformation. These resources are a non-exhaustive: e.g. common narratives and strategies of disinformation observed, measures taken to counter this disinformation and other initiatives.
- RSF has created a tool, Tracker_19, in order to keep track of the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on journalism. It will document cases of censorship and disinformation from governments, it will report on cases of violence against journalists and whistleblowers, and it will also give practical advice to journalists who are covering the pandemic.
Professional reporting on COVID-19
UNESCO, United Nations and Partners:
UNESCO syllabus on science and health journalism, included in its model curricula on journalism education. (*)
Self-Directed Course “Journalism in a pandemic: Covering COVID-19 now and in the future” in multiple languages launched by UNESCO and WHO and organized by the Knight Centre for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin.
Press councils in South East Europe have called for professional reporting on COVID-19; an action welcomed by UNESCO. (*)
This multilingual webinar, "Covering the COVID-19 Vaccines: What Journalists Need to Know" offers up best practices for journalists covering the vaccines, particularly with regard to vaccine distribution and the science behind the vaccines. It was organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, in partnership with UNESCO and the World Health Organization and with funding from the European Union.
- The International Federation of Journalists has urged media to report professionally on COVID-19 to “avoid creating unjustified panic that could worsen the situation.”
- BBC Media Action - 10 tips for media in the COVID-19 ‘info-demic’.
- BBC Media Action - guide for media on communicating in public health emergencies. This was prepared for the International Federation of the Red Cross during the Ebola crisis, and contains practical tips for media practitioners on how to help audiences during health emergencies.
- Public Media Alliance - list of vital resources, sources, public media content and best practices for the public, journalists and media workers.
- Global Investigative Journalism Network examples of data journalism related to “social distancing simulations, coronavirus cluster research, and flattening the COVID-19 curve.”
- First Draft resource hub for reporting on coronavirus. It includes resources such as newsgathering and verification tools, ethics and responsible reporting guidance, and a database of debunks of mis- and disinformation.
- The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) has launched a Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum which includes an interactive, multilingual hub for thousands of journalists from around the world to: aid informed, ethical reporting through direct access to credible sources of scientific and medical expertise; facilitate knowledge sharing and collaborative reporting projects in reference to Covid-19.
- Speakers for online journalism school classes: As journalism schools move their teaching online due to COVID-19, the Fathm team are making themselves available for free one-hour presentations to classes about their work. If you’re a journalism educator and would like one of their team to speak to your class, please sign up using the form on their website.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has created a Coronavirus Response Page on its website to bring ressources, information and advice to the journalists covering the COVID-19 crisis. CPJ is interviewing journalist who are on the front line in order to see how the crisis is covered, how this coverage can be improved, and how journalists can stay safe. Through this page, media professionals can also ask questions directly to CPJ safety experts.
- The Global Investigative Journalism Network gathered some « Tips for Journalists Covering COVID-19 » from various journalism organizations, journalists and experts, along with GIJN’s own guides, to make them available for journalists. These tips are about – among other things - how to report responsibly, how to stay safe, and also how the virus should be called. As there are different coronaviruses, it is important to name this one properly as the COVID-19.
- Nieman Lab has created a guide for journalists on how to keep themselves and their newsrooms physically safe and mentally sane.
- The Ethical Journalism Network has established ethics for reporting and advice on safety while reporting in the time of Covid-19. It emphasizes on the importance of reporting responsibly, stay physically and mentally safe and healthy.
- Thomson Foundation has created free and online courses that are available on its Journalism Now platform. The courses are focused on the issues of the safety of the journalists covering the COVID-19 crisis, the verification of facts and content production. These courses are meant to help journalists cover the pandemic in a more efficient and professional way.
Access to information and knowledge
Now more than ever, the world needs access to information.
It is crucial that governments provide maximum transparency to dispel rumours and keep the public and the media fully informed about ongoing developments.
Open access to scientific information is key in this crisis, meaning that all resources developed on COVID-19 should be made available free and open licensed (CC BY-SA). Thus, to assist efforts to contain and mitigate the spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to encourage access to basic science research and innovation.
UNESCO, United Nations and Partners:
- UNESCO promotes the right to access information, recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Sustainable Development Goal 16.10) (*).
- UNESCO and the global Open Educational Resources community identify, share and support the development of distance-learning resources concerning COVID-19 in different languages, and disseminate them through institutional and governmental frameworks (*).
- UNESCO advocates for openly licensed scientific knowledge. It is necessary for publishers to make information in the relevant scientific fields available in both human and machine-readable formats.
- The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, co-led by UNESCO and International Telecommunication Union, promotes affordable connectivity to internet. This is essential to maintain health, social, educational, political and economic processes, especially during in emergencies. The Commission will produce a report on freedom of expression and disinformation, which will also address COVID-19, during fall 2020 (*).
- On-demand content platforms and public libraries, such as the World Digital Library, are offering free or cheaper packages for access to online cultural and educational content.
- Novel Coronavirus Information Center by publisher Elsevier, provides expert and curated information for the research and health community. Resources are free to access and include guidelines for clinicians and patients.
- The Council of Europe published a document entitled “Respecting democracy, rule of law and human rights in the framework of the COVID-19 sanitary crisis: A toolkit for member states”. This document addressed to Member States gives advice on how to deal with the COVID-19 crisis while still respecting democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Governments shouldn’t abuse of emergency measures and use this crisis as an excuse to control people’s private life.
- IFEX has created an « Access to Information » Page which is gathering articles reporting on violations all over the world regarding access to information during this COVID-19 crisis.
UNESCO, United Nations and Partners:
Corona Virus Media Watch launched by the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence in Slovenia, category 2 centre under the auspices of UNESCO. It provides global and national news updates based on a selection of media entities with open online news. Policymakers, media and the public can observe emerging trends related to COVID-19 in their country and the world.
- To ensure access to information, Access Now has urged governments across the globe to ensure free, open and secure internet access.
- Artists, athletes and creative and entertainment industries have mobilized to promote live streamed theatre plays, DJ sets, and performances, usually connected to philanthropic initiatives, through digital technologies.