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“Misinformation is more contagious than virus”

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Effective Reporting on Child Health Workshop held

By OUR STAFF REPORTER

DEHRADUN, 29 Oct: Over 150 media professionals from all over India attended two workshops held here on evidence-based health journalism, being organised by UNICEF from 28 October to 30 October.

Journalists from Amar Ujala, The Tribune, Times Group and students from Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Jamia Milia Islamia and Himachal Pradesh University and RJs from private FM learnt the importance of evidence-based reporting and factchecking in health journalism through UNICEF’s Critical Appraisal Skills (CAS) course.

Zafrin Chowdhury, Chief of Communication, Advocacy and Partnerships, UNICEF India, who joined the workshop online, said, “Misinformation is perhaps the only thing more contagious than the virus. It spreads fast and poses an imminent threat to public health safety.”

CAS, she said, plays a huge role in building a holistic 360-degree science-based communication narrative and undertaking capacitybuilding of media to counter any misinformation.

“Media has an essential role as a stakeholder to ensure an effective two-way communication, so that ground realities are channelled back to policy makers for an effective uptake of vaccination and overall health management,” Zafrin Chowdhury added.

Dr NK Arora, Chairman, COVID-19 Working Group, National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, interacted with journalists virtually on the COVID-19 vaccination and urged the media to find innovative ways to break through information fatigue and encourage eligible people to take all their doses of vaccine on time.

Pankaj Pachauri, Founder GO News, who has been a key founding member of the CAS Committee said that CAS has been highly helpful in sifting fact from fiction during the pandemic. He suggested that CAS should be made mandatory in curriculum for journalism and mass communication and for this initiatives should be taken to pitch the idea to the University Grants Commission.

He recommended that senior editors and media owners too should take the CAS course, which can be pitched through professional bodies such as the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association, Editors’ Guild of India and various Press Clubs. Sanjay Abhigyan, Executive Editor, Amar Ujala, Dehradun, said that Amar Ujala was one of the few newspapers that implemented CAS in their organizations early. “The pandemic brought with it a tsunami of misinformation and disinformation, which we call as an infodemic. Through CAS we were able to manage some of this infodemic. We are hopeful that going forward, we will be able to train not just our health journalists but also our management and journalists from other beats too on CAS,” he said.

Abhigyan also gave various examples of stories Amar Ujala covered during the pandemic and how CAS helped the journalists in the field and at the desk introduce data journalism in these stories. The CAS programme, developed in 2014 by UNICEF, in association with Oxford University, Thomson Reuters and IIMC for working health journalists and students of journalism and mass communication, was later adapted as an elective module in their curriculum by IIMC and MANUU. The Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, too added CAS, this year, as a part of its curriculum for its third semester students. The workshop brought together practitioners of CAS, journalism students and subject experts, including Sanjay Abhigyan, Former Executive Editor, Amar Ujala (Dehradun) and CAS Mentor; Pankaj Pachauri, Media Editor, GO News, and CAS Mentor; Dr N K Arora, Chairman of India’s COVID-19 Working Group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation; Prof (Dr.) Rajib Dasgupta, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Somasekhar Mulugu, Former Associate Editor, The Hindu BusinessLine; Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai, Internews Health Journalism Network; immunization, health and nutrition experts from UNICEF, senior journalists and RJs from prominent newspapers and private FM respectively to discuss the importance of evidencebased journalism in areas that impact children such as Routine Immunization, COVID-19 and Vaccines, Antibiotics, Nutrition and Primary Healthcare.