The Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations, (ZIPR), the representative body for communicators in the country, has issued a statement in which they have resolved to provide leadership and guidance in engendering responsible and ethical reporting around the cholera outbreak.
The statement released today follows the establishment of a task force whose mandate includes that of providing guidance and advice on the communication discourse on national issues.
“Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations places itself at the disposal of the Government Task Force, health authorities, and indeed the media using the resources at its disposal to provide the necessary guidance regarding communications around the epidemic,” they said
This, the ZIPR said, had been inspired by the Institute’s pursuit for an ethical and sensitive approach to the reporting and information dissemination on issues around the current outbreak which the nation, and indeed, the media should come together in pursuit of the common cause of effectively tackling it.
The Institute noted that the outbreak of cholera in Harare presented an array of sources, opportunities and angles for the media to report the story. However, the loss of life and the threat to more citizens contracting the disease meant that in their pursuit to stay ahead, the media needed to refocus on being ethical and sensitive in the way they work.
“The media are obligated to sharing accurate information without creating unnecessary alarm and despondency. This, we should add, is not the time for political point-scoring in what is a serious issue,” they cautioned.
ZIPR stated that media played a significant role in creating an informed public. Responsible media coverage, they said, was the best way to reach residents, in their local language, with key information, where control depended on the total engagement of informed and motivated communities. Public information, whether official or from media, was a control intervention with the potential to reduce or stop transmission and contain the epidemic.
“In the absence of constantly flowing information from respected sources, rumors tend to fill the vacuum and take on a life of their own. If officials are not available for comment, reporters will find their own experts and launch their own investigations,” ZIPR said.
Since human behavior nearly always contributed to the spread of cholera, this opened opportunities for the media to identify dangerous activities or populations at risk. Providing timely advice by offering information to the public, which ZIPR said, was the media’s prerogative.