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Media Monitoring: Covid-19 brings health reporting to prominence

This report examines coverage by Kenyan media of Covid-19 that has killed over 29,000 people around the world including a 66-year-old Kenyan.  We look at the professional challenges of covering such sad situations especially a disease whose rate of infections has threatened millions of lives across continents. In normal circumstances, the coverage of health stories rarely makes the front pages of newspapers or the first news stories on radio or TV.

 Covid-19 began in December in Wuhan City, China, but it was not something which happened without notice at all. It didn’t take place abruptly and we can’t say journalists were caught unaware.

The media in Kenya reported the virus as it occurred in many other countries but how journalists handled themselves during press conferences and while in the field gathering of stories raised questions about their level of preparedness.

Immediately the government announced existence of the virus in Kenya, increased coverage was witnessed across all media outlets and journalists were expected to work under pressure to deliver. Whether or not they have succeeded in adhering to the guidelines that have been provided in the fight against Covid-19 is something that can be assessed based on journalists contacts during their work.

During the initial weeks after announcement, media were guided by timeliness as a news value and by and large, they did a splendid job while engaging in the cutthroat competition. It was observed that when journalists received the sad news, everyone competed to be the first with every emerging news of the disease.

At first, journalists violated some guidelines such as keeping social distance but as time went by, stakeholders in the industry called upon journalists to adhere to the measures set out to fight the spread of the disease.

The increasing prominence witnessed in media’s coverage of Covid-19 illustrates that even health stories if packaged well by journalists can at times receive prominence which can help enhance flow of information. The work of a reporter in this case is to talk to news sources while at the same time look critically at all sides of the debate and then broadcast or write a balanced, factual and accurate story.

According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fear and anxiety about the virus can make people avoid or reject others even if they may not be at risk for spreading this disease. Hence it becomes very important for the media to break away from what the government tells them and create an enabling environment for anyone suspecting themselves to come out and get tested.

This monitoring observed that in a typical newspaper in a day, articles dedicated to the virus ranged between 18 to 26 and this shows the level of attention which Kenyan media has given Covid-19.

In conclusion, this exercise is an eye opener for journalists. Its findings show Kenyan journalists tend to overlook their work especially their safety and protection while covering the infectious disease. It also shows that even health stories when handled well can receive prominence and can appear in front pages or as first news stories across all media outlets. This calls for more intensified training of journalists on covering infectious diseases or adhering to guidelines that have been provided.

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