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Health CS Mutahi Kagwe (right) and the Ministry's Health Director General Dr Patrick Amoth when they addressed a news conference on April 10, 2020.

Fifth Estate

Journalists must walk the talk on their safety as they cover COVID-19

It’s not castigation or blaming, just basic reminders to journalists, as they go on doing the difficult job of covering COVID-19 pandemic. Your life, your family and colleagues’ lives matter, and you have a personal responsibility to ensure they are protected. Personal awareness and responsibility is as important as the stories you are covering. In addition, you must be lead examples to practicing what you are telling the public to do.

The masses that are watching the press briefings cannot understand why they are being asked to put on protective gear when those in authority and journalists delivering the information are not adhering to the same.  Remember in communications, we have the saying that ‘seeing is believing’. So appearing on TV with those PPEs suspended or hanging on your chins is doing a huge damage to the public campaign on people taking precautions in the face of the pandemic

Watching journalists during daily press briefings on COVID-19 status, many times breaking the social distances requirements, masks on their chins or foreheads suspended and missing gloves depicts professionals oblivious of their safety. Interventions were made and only a few media houses are allowed to send crew to the daily briefings, but even the few are reluctant to take care.

It reminds me of the Westgate shopping mall terrorist attack, whena journalist refused to put on a bullet proof helmet at an active shooting site because it was going to mess up her hair. Friends called her severally, reminding her, but she didn’t hear any of it. Security officers had a difficulty time requesting journalists to move some distance away from the site, for their safety.

It is happening again, and while a lot has been done to minimize risks to journalists including media houses investing in Personal Protective Equipment for them, and understandably, change is hard to embrace, many are just like some of the health officials paraded on TV, without putting on the protective gear. It might be that they have done a risk analysis and think they are not exposed thus the action, but remember, the guidelines given the Ministry of Health, Media Council of Kenya and internal media guidelines are suffering irreparable damage in terms of public perception.  Yes, its uncomfortable and sometimes irritating putting on the PPE especially for non -medical staff, but we have no alternative- we simply have to take protective measures that we are telling others to follow. Journalist must clean their equipment, never leave the equipment on the ground during field assignments and use boom mics during field interviews.

“ For the safety of our journalists, please tell the Health CS Mutahi Kagwe to stop live coverage of the updates forthwith. And please help us drum it to journalists that they are not exempt from infection” a colleague sent us a message.

MCK guidelines required that journalists and media practitioners assigned to cover coronavirus stories must do a risk analysis to ensure not only their safety, but the safety of their families, colleagues and the community. It further advised that the journalists do risk analysis to assess their safety, level of exposure (visiting health facilities, interviews with suspects or

those with high exposure to the virus) and discuss with their immediate supervisors.

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Journalists who have been exposed and visited the outbreak epicenter zones are required to stay away from the office or interacting with news sources, family members and others for a period of 14 days.  Alert relevant offices immediately you feel unwell. Additionally, journalists who have reported from active outbreak zones are required to stay away from the office or interacting with news sources, family members and others for a period of 14 days and alert relevant offices immediately should they feel unwell.

Currently we have 2 journalists in quarantine in Nairobi while 14 who had been exposed while covering a press conference have 14 days in self -isolation in a county outside Nairobi. They have additionally undergone counseling over the same. So it is real and journalists must exercise caution for their own good.

Those working within the areas where the cessation of movements were declared by the Government or past curfew hours, please always remember to carry your press cards, and exercise emotional intelligence when dealing with the state agents and members of the public. Do not violate curfew regulations unnecessarily without knowledge of your editors or senior security agents and at all times do not get into confrontations with authorities and members of the public.

Ni vigumu lakini hatuma nama, lazima tujilinde dhidi ya virusi vya Korona

The writer is the Head of Media Development and Strategy at the Media Council of Kenya and is a journalists’, safety trainer

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