The World Health Organization (WHO) has denounced the “massive infodemic” of disinformation and misinformation swirling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as a driver of the crisis itself. In the current context, dis- and misinformation represent a serious challenge in addressing a viral epidemic.
In the context of Yemen, the COVID-19 pandemic is posing a huge threat on a country already weakened by 5 years of conflict. The first case of COVID-19 in Yemen was recorded in April amongst fears that the depleted health system might not be capable of containing the virus outbreak. The proliferation of misinformation and disinformation puts even more lives and livelihoods at risk.
The situation in Yemen has called for urgent measures to equip local journalists with the necessary skills to best inform the public, raise awareness about the pandemic, and fight against disinformation. Equally important is the safety of these journalists, who already lack the knowledge and skills to protect themselves from threats, including those related to the current health crisis. As part of its immediate and specially tailored response, globally and at the national level, UNESCO partnered with the regional organization Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) to organize three capacity-development webinars for journalists in Yemen on how to communicate amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
The three webinars provided journalists with a comprehensive set of skills to cover the COVID-19 pandemic safely and counter the spread of disinformation and misinformation in Yemen.
The first webinar, which took place on June 12, covered safety and ethics for journalists during the COVID-19 pandemic. This webinar allowed participants to understand the necessary safety procedures while covering pandemics, including COVID-19, and provided them with an opportunity to discuss the numerous challenges faced by Yemeni journalists during the crisis whether physical, digital, or psychosocial. Participants learnt how to identify, mitigate, and manage risks and threats during a pandemic including those that are gender-based . This first training also emphasized the critical role of journalists during the pandemic as well as in the fight against disinformation, hate speech, and discrimination.
The second webinar, which took place on June 13, focused on scientific journalism. It provided journalists with the tools to cover a scientific event, learning how to understand and use scientific terms, as well as how to convey the results of a scientific research, and deal with resources, vocabulary and ethical matters.
The last webinar, which took place on June 14, covered reporting in times of information disorder and verification tools. Journalists were introduced to Media and Information Literacy in the context of COVID-19 and learnt about the tools to verify information, pictures, videos and combination of facts.
44 Yemeni journalists, including 24 male and 20 female journalists, took part in the three webinars.
It was a great experience. We learnt all about safety measures to consider while covering COVID-19, as well as how to cover scientific stories, which really improved my ability to cover COVID-19 in Yemen, and finally, it also helped me distinguish between real and “fake” news.
Three trainers were selected to lead the training: Ms. Abeer Saady, safety and ethics consultant and trainer, Ms. Alyaa Abo Shahba, scientific journalist, and M. Mohammed Komani, ARIJ Data editor.
Living in the pandemic, it is important for Yemeni journalists to know from where they can get the right information and how to verify it. It is crucial for them to be able to check every piece of information to avoid spreading disinformation.
The recordings of the three webinars are available online on the YouTube channel of the UNESCO GCC and Yemen office.
Protecting the safety of journalists and equipping them with the necessary tools to counter disinformation and convey verified and accurate information on the COVID-19 outbreak in Yemen is essential. Communities in crisis strongly rely on the media to get crucial information that can save their lives”. She added, “Empowering Yemeni journalists and strengthening their skills to better inform the local population about the pandemic and protect themselves is crucial and we hope that this training will contribute to the efforts in fighting against COVID-19 in Yemen.
Despite the challenge of shifting our workshops from offline to online, we remain committed to supporting journalists from high-risk Arab countries through essential training that will assist their work in the very dangerous field. We regard this as an emergency project, and I am sure that Yemeni journalists in particular, and Arab journalists in general, when accessing the material freely online, will find in these webinars a real wealth of knowledge, and will use the tools and techniques taught, in their day to day work.
The webinars were implemented as part of the UNESCO GCC and Yemen office response to COVID-19 in Yemen to fight against the spread of misinformation and disinformation, support access to information, and strengthen journalist’s capacities.
This initiative was supported by the Multi-Donor Programme for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP).
About the Multi-Donor Programme for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP)
The MDP serves to further strenghten UNESCO's work at a global, regional, and national levels, by channeling funds towards emerging priorities and the most pressing needs to achieve its mandate on freedom of expression. It enables UNESCO's Communication and Information Sector to address complex issues through the design and implementation of holistic medium and long-term interventions at national, regional and global levels. The clear advantage of this mechanism is that it allows UNESCO and its partners to achieve greater impact and sustainability, whilst reducing fragmentation of activities in the same field.
Protect journalists and freedom of expression. Visit: en.unesco.org/themes/fostering-freedom-expression/mdp
ARIJ (Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism) has trained during the last 10 years over 200 Yemeni journalists and published tens of investigations from Yemen in both Arabic and English. ARIJ is an Investigative Journalism centre, a regional training institute and a networking hub that trained during the last 15 years over 2800 Arab Journalists and coached over 600 award-winning investigations.