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‘Don’t contact NHS to factcheck coronavirus rumours’, journalists warned

Karin WahlJournalists have been advised against contacting the NHS initially when attempting to factcheck a rumour about coronavirus.

New guidance, which can be read in full here, has been produced aimed at journalists new to covering health topics or those redeployed from other areas.

It has been produced Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, who is based at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture, at the request of the Welsh NHS Confederation.

The guidance states that the verification of any social media information about the outbreak is the responsibility of journalists, not the NHS, and urges reporters to view specialised factcheckers in the UK or internationally before contacting the service about rumours related to COVID-19.

Services recommended for this include Full Fact, Channel 4, AFP and the WHO.

The guidance also calls on journalists to check the publication histories of experts such as epidemiologists and public health experts to verify their expertise before interviewing them.

A summary of the guidance is as follows:

– Responsible, detailed, and accurate reporting of COVID-19 is an essential public service.
– Use credible experts as sources and be wary of unverified rumour.
– News organisations should use pooled materials whenever possible.
– If looking for information verification, check other sources first before contacting NHS.
– Ensure compliance with procedures for risk assessment and consent.
– Enforce social distancing and ensure safe use of equipment.
– Ensure risk assessments have been carried out prior to hospital visits and face-toface interactions with NHS staff.
– Obtain consent from anyone interviewed or filmed.
– 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.

Professor Wahl-Jorgensen, pictured, said: “The unprecedented demand for information demonstrates the importance of robust news media in a democratic society.

“At the same time, we must be alert to the need for protecting the vital work of the NHS, as frontline staff treat the rising number of patients affected by the illness.

“I hope the guidance will serve to support news media across Wales in their efforts to help us make sense of what is a hugely worrying time for us all.”

Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, added: “Dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak is an enormous challenge for the NHS and its staff.

“Coverage of the outbreak is dominating the news agenda with journalists having an integral role in supporting the public through this difficult time.

“They will be reporting the most up-to-date information and scrutinising the response from government, the NHS and public sector bodies.”

He added: “We would like to thank Cardiff University, and colleagues from across the UK for putting together this advice which we’re sure will provide a solid framework for journalists and colleagues throughout the NHS in Wales throughout this outbreak.”

You can read all our coronavirus-related stories here.


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  • April 16, 2020 at 9:44 am

    This goes to show the value of respected journalists with decent local contacts. NHS Wales is clearly being bombarded by credulous reporters who can’t even do basic checks before wanting to speak to experts. This is what happens when all your news rooms are more interested in quick easy copy and lowest common denominator stories.

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  • April 16, 2020 at 11:02 am

    @AndyN far more useful than my rant… although you may have to explain what the Lancet is to some reporters.

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