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March 3, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 8:59am

Calls for ‘responsible’ reporting on coronavirus as Government breaks Today and GMB boycott

By Charlotte Tobitt

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on both traditional and social media to be “responsible” with their reporting on the coronavirus as he revealed the Government’s plans to tackle the outbreak.

Speaking to journalists this morning, Johnson said: “We have all got to be very responsible. The media has an important role as does social media.”

According to the BBC, he added: “I’m sure they [news reports] will want to convey the right messages and the right balance of risk.”

The International Federation of Journalists has urged the media to avoid sensationalist reporting and “fear-inducing vocabulary”, and to consider the privacy of those affected.

IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “The journalist’s responsibility towards the public takes precedence over any other responsibility.

“Media can increase public awareness of the situation regarding the coronavirus through reporting that educates, warns and informs properly on the problem.

“That way they can also be part of the solution. It’s in this kind of context when we have the opportunity to again demonstrate to citizens the value of quality, ethical journalism.”

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The IFJ also called on public authorities and medical institutions to provide “timely and transparent” information to journalists so they have all the appropriate information.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock ended a Government boycott of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme today after more than two months to discuss coronavirus.

Hancock also became the first Cabinet minister to appear on Good Morning Britain since the election. His media round this morning also included LBC, Talkradio, Sky Sunrise and BBC Breakfast.

Social media companies are also making efforts to tackle misinformation by providing clear signposts to official information.

In the UK, searches for “coronavirus” on Facebook and Twitter bring up links to official NHS guidance at the top of the pages, while a Youtube search directs users to the World Health Organisation.

Speaking in Parliament this afternoon, Hancock said social media companies were playing a “very responsible role” in addressing the outbreak.

Conservative MP James Wild asked whether the Government is working with social media companies to “remove any misleading content”, amid bogus claims of a “vitamin therapy” treatment.

Hancock revealed he had spoken to the “main social media companies” yesterday, adding: “Fake news in response to a virus like this can be dangerous and damaging to health and it should be taken down.”

He said: “The biggest social media companies are playing a very responsible role – if you search on Google, then the top two sites that come up for coronavirus are World Health Organisation, the NHS is third – and they are promoting good, high quality, medically informed advice.”

Three Channel 4 News journalists including presenter Jon Snow are just over halfway through a 14-day self-isolation over fears of spreading the disease after they returned from a reporting trip in Iran.

Picture: Frank Augstein/PA Wire

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