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New guidelines for journalists aim to ease NHS pressure

Posted on: April 16, 2020 by Mariella Brown

New guidelines for journalists faced with fact-checking on Covid-19 issues call for them not to place extra pressure on the NHS.

The guidance has been created by Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture, at the request of the Welsh NHS Confederation.

The guidelines are aimed at journalists new to covering health issues.

Prepared by Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, the document says: “The outbreak of COVID-19 is placing an unprecedented strain on health services in Wales and across the world. At the same time, coverage of the outbreak is essential, and there is a great demand from media organisations and their audiences to receive information about the outbreak and its frontline. This can put additional pressures on health care organisations and staff and may in certain cases interfere with their operations in dealing with the outbreak.”

The guidelines draw on input from leading academics, journalists and PR practitioners and provide a number of suggestions for media organisations designed to facilitate coverage in and around healthcare facilities in Wales.

However, the document stresses that the experts involved in providing support are independent from the NHS, and the document does not reflect official NHS policy.

The guidelines state:

  1. Interviews with frontline staff make for powerful stories and can be both visually and emotionally appealing. However, such interviews should not interfere with medical care.
  2. Social distancing should be observed between NHS staff and journalists, and between the journalists themselves, at all times.
  3. Journalists need to make sure they use equipment that complies with social distancing requirements. For example, they should use a gun mic instead of a direct mic, and they must assume responsibility for disinfecting their equipment.
  4. If you intend to visit a hospital, make sure NHS teams are aware of where and when the item they’ve produced will be broadcast/published.
  5. When making requests for interviews or information, be specific about who you need to speak to, and where, what and how the information will be used.
  6. Respect the need to protect key frontline staff from the glare of the media.
  7. Ensure informed consent has been obtained from frontline staff appearing in the media.
  8. Be careful about whether the source you’re interviewing is speaking on the basis of their experience or their expertise.

When interviewing experts:

  1. Check publication histories of experts (e.g. epidemiologists, public health experts) to verify expertise.
  2. Explain any medical jargon or technical language.
  3. Provide context for distinguishing between known facts and predictions based on modelling. This is particularly important because scientific models for the outbreak vary greatly.

Regarding social media:

  1. Be wary of unverified rumour.
  2. The verification of any social media information about the outbreak is the responsibility of journalists, not the NHS.
  3. NHS will regularly update information about the outbreak, including through their social media channels, so these should be checked regularly

The full advice can be read here.