Media practitioners have been urged to eschew sensationalism and publication of opinions in order not to undermine the national efforts at preventing the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country.
Sensational reports, according to medical experts, also have the tendency to stigmatise patients and discourage those suspected to be exposed to the disease from stepping out for testing.
Advising the media at separate sensitisation programmes on COVID-19 for senior journalists and editors on Monday, resource persons entreated practitioners to report only facts.
The media, they admonished, should rely on information on the disease provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ghana Health Service (GHS) portals to arm the public with the needed knowledge to stay protected, and seek treatment when necessary.
The resource persons included Dr Anthony Nsiah Asare, the Presidential Adviser on health; Dr Justice Yankson, General Secretary of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA); and Dr Da-Costa Aboagye, the Director of Health Promotion and Chairman of the Risk Communication and Social Mobilization at GHS.
The rest were the Minister for Information Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah and his Deputy Pius Enam Hadzide; and Deputy Minister for Health Mr Alex K. Abban.
The resource persons urged media practitioners to seek answers to their queries from persons, who have been authorised from the district to the national levels by the technical teams for the COVID-19 project.
The GMA General Secretary Dr Yankson said these are not normal times and that it is important for journalists to desist from rushing to publish information to scoop others, without validating facts.
He said all efforts should be geared towards encouraging protective behaviour and community spirit to ensure calm rather than spreading fear.
Dr Yankson also advised the media not announce confirmed cases or fatalities ahead of the designated authorities and also respect the rights of patients, including their privacy by not publishing their names without their consent.
He implored journalists to follow their professional ethics in addition to the WHO protocol for reporting pandemics.
“The being the first to break the news syndrome will be fatal if we do not check certain facts.
“We will always want you to follow the best steps and in instances where you have the best lead, confirm with the appropriate person, otherwise in your rush you might send out messages that can be detrimental to the national efforts and confuse a lot more people”, Dr Yankson admonished.
He said in order not to crowd the media space with people who were not professionals, a list of resource persons has been provided nationwide who could be contacted to speak with the media on the issue in accordance with national protocols.
Information Minister Mr Oppong-Nkrumah said the experience from China indicated that the media played a very critical role in providing information that empowered citizens to limit community spread.
In shaping the discussions on the disease, it was important for media practitioners to have deep knowledge, familiarise themselves with the technical information and present them in a professional manner.
Since in health matters, prevention was better than cure, Mr Oppong-Nkrumah admonished the media to send out messages on the preventive measures to prevent a crisis.
Spreading myths & politics
The Presidential Adviser on Health, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare advised the media not to spread myths.
He encouraged them to give hope and comply with the existing health protocols.
On his part, Deputy Minister for Health Mr Abban, advised against politicisation of the issues, sarcasm, cynicism and forcing opinions on others.
The GJA President, Mr Affail Monney, said this was not the time to stretch the truth, spin or politicise the issue, otherwise “we all stand consumed in the end”.
Wrapping up, Dr Da-Costa Aboagye, said the government would intensify public education, which would be in a form of documentary, drama, information on mandatory and self-isolation to ensure adequate understanding for behavioural change.
Citizens, he advised, should maintain proper personal hygiene, eat healthily, have enough sleep and drink a lot of water, in addition to the prescribed social distance protocols.
Dr Aboagye urged them to call the following emergency lines when they feel unwell and suspected to be carrying the virus: 112, 0570607000, 0570604000, 0509497700, and 0558439868.
“People can also visit the WHO and ghanahealthservice.org/covid-19/ for more information on the disease,” he said.
Ghana has since yesterday March 24, recorded 52 COVID-19 cases with two deaths.