Fake news on coronavirus: Media should create ‘Fact Check’ corner

Friday March 27 2020



Odoobo C. Bichachi

Odoobo C. Bichachi 

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

The coronavirus has created worldwide panic and with Uganda technically under lockdown following the 14-day ban on public transport and closure of non-food selling stalls in markets, many people are now confined to their homes.

Media and hearsay will for the coming weeks be their main source of information. Therefore, more than ever before, the media role as a reliable purveyor of reliable and functional information, is required.

In its Wednesday edition, the Daily Monitor did a great public service by breaking down in bitesize how long the virus survives on different surfaces and therefore what precautions the public should take when interacting with those surfaces.

More such information consistently put out will leave the public more informed and less panicky. Indeed, the Daily Monitor has continued with this information strip on its front page in the Thursday edition. I believe it will be a regular feature until the war on the virus is defeated.

However, alongside mainstream media, is the pervasive social media that is the primary source of information for many people in Uganda and elsewhere. While great factual and functional information on the coronavirus has been shared on different social media platforms, so has been a lot of fake news that creates alarm and misinformation. The most terrible fake news has been the recycling of old videos and photos with new captions linking it to the current pandemic.

One of the fake news circulating on WhatAspp is that 450 Ugandans were deported from Dubai after they had tested positive for Covid-19 because the Dubai authorities did not want to incur the cost of treating non-nationals. That it is these that have now brought the infection to Uganda! The other was a Shell refilling station price board indicating that petrol was selling at Shs5,440 after the lockdown was announced.

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Many people believe these things until they are refuted by a more credible medium. Perhaps something the media could quickly pick is to create a ‘Fact Check’ corner in which every day, the fake news that has been shared out on social media is listed and the correct facts or context given.

NBS television is already doing something like that, but not consistently. If all mainstream media joined, we would defeat fake news around this pandemic and calm nerves of people.

Nonetheless, the media itself continues to register some transgressions, one of which is labelling. Last weekend, a Sunday Monitor cartoon labelled coronavirus ‘Kungu-Flu,’ perhaps picked from US President Donald Trump, who has refused to use the universal scientific name of the virus and refers to it as “Chinese virus!” The attempt at humour by labelling failed and is uncalled for at this point in time.

In fact, cartoonists should be extremely sensitive, like is required of the writers, to only depict coronavirus in a manner that shares information, not humour. There is no humour in disease, death or misfortune! The other problematic labelling is the reference to all quarantined travellers as coronavirus suspects or suspected coronavirus carriers.

By the media continuously referring to them as such, it creates stigma among recent travellers and encourages them to go underground rather than voluntarily go for testing. They should simply be referred to as people under mandatory quarantine to rule out infections, not suspected carriers! Only those that show symptoms fit that label.

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READERS HAVE YOUR SAY
Daniele Cervellera: Refer to article in the March 19 edition by Mr Ssemogerere Karoli with the title “Coronavirus: Big countries need to repair their information systems.” In the article, he wrote, “The Italians abandoned plans to actively treat older people basically letting them die.” This is a serious statement and honestly surprising to me as an Italian. I follow daily news from my country and I have not seen any information similar to this. Where did he find it?”

Karoli Ssemogerere: Most of the information is publicly available on public media. The rapid spike in deaths from the pandemic in Italy were attributable to: (a) Capacity failure, Italy has more ICU beds per capita than the United States, but this capacity proved insufficient after several days, hospitals were overwhelmed. (b) The higher fatalities among older people are well documented. See

www.worldofmeters,info/coronavirus for the breakdown. It will be clearer where we are today.
Public Editor: We cannot say for a fact that the elderly are being left to die. What we know from China, Italy and South Korea is that the elderly stand less chances against the virus compared to younger people because of their low immunity.

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public-editor@ug.nationmedia.com
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