UNESCO welcomes press councils’ call for professional reporting on COVID-19 in South East Europe

“Unprofessional reporting about COVID-19 leads to unnecessary fear and panic. It may be a bigger risk than the coronavirus itself,” alerted Marina Tuneva, Director of the Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia (CMEM).

On 27 February 2020, The Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia (CMEM) took the lead in releasing a press alert calling on media in North Macedonia to be careful in their selection of sources of information. The statement, welcomed and widely adopted by the media, urged them to avoid sensationalism and highlighted the responsibility that journalists bear. This early action to prevent the further spreading of disinformation, reminded media of their crucial role in responsibly and accurately informing the public.

Still, the Media Council received several complaints from citizens concerning unethical reporting on the COVID-19. The Media Council therefore joined forces with the Association of Journalists of North Macedonia to release specific ‘Guidelines on ethical, accountable and professional reporting on the coronavirus’ in Macedonian and Albanian languages, sent to all media organizations of the country on 17 March 2020.

“We are not just fighting an epidemic, we are fighting an infodemic”, warned Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). “The way the media council in North Macedonia immediately reacted to the COVID-19 crisis by issuing specific guidelines for media in the country is much needed and welcomed. Press councils have a crucial role to play in ensuring that media outlets commit to professional standards, avoid circulating rumours about the virus and even help detect the lies spread on social media,” highlighted Adeline Hulin from the UNESCO Brussels Office.

As South East Europe is exposed to the spread of disinformation, the EU-funded UNESCO Project Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey – Phase 2 proves particularly relevant. The project aims to strengthen media accountability and to raise awareness of the society on the detection of “disinformation”. To achieve this, the project provides direct support to press and media councils to strengthen media’s commitment to journalistic professional and ethical standards. At the same time, it reinforces Media and Information Literacy (MIL) in the region to empower citizens, in particular the youth of the region, to think critically about the information they receive through media, especially, social media.