Suhaimi Sulaiman, Bernama Chairman

KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted work routines in general with the new norm now a way of life for many workers worldwide including media practitioners. 

Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) Chairman, Suhaimi Sulaiman said there are at least eight challenges that media practitioners are faced with during the pandemic, including the first time the virus became public, leaving many clueless. 

He pointed out that health panellists or experts play a very important role where media reporting was concerned as they can help journalists quickly gather and verify data and information. 

“Media operations need to be fast, accurate and responsible for whatever we are reporting. If only during that time when COVID-19 appeared there were panellists or experts helping us out, it would have been great but at that time there were none, (so) we had to scramble (for information).

He said if only there had been a dashboard, a body or an organisation that would have come out with a list of experts who were contactable round the clock, it would have been extremely helpful, as this was not a problem confined to just one or two countries but one faced worldwide.

“The media needs experts from different time zones to ensure they reduce the risks of unverified data and wrong interpretations,” Suhaimi said in a Webinar On Health Journalism organised by the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) today.

Outlining the challenges further, Suhaimi, who was one of the speakers, said during a health crisis, such as a pandemic, experts and scientists must evolve and be great storytellers, as many are found to relay information as though speaking to their peers. 

One solution for this is make complex ideas simple for different segments of the population, and this could be done through the use of infographics and simplifying terms and jargons, he said. 

However, he said the onus is also on journalists to improve their knowledge so that understanding of the subject matter, in this case a pandemic crisis, and medical jargon like the R-Naught, flattening the curve and others could be relayed accurately to the masses. 

He said the media would need a good ‘dashboard’ as well to respond to the challenge of how to source and report on related topics to the pandemic, such as social distancing and new work culture and environment. 

Another great challenge for the media in crisis situations like these would be the spread of fake news, Suhaimi said, adding that in the case of the Malaysian media, journalists were fortunate to have the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) effectively verify information. 

Reporting methods too can prove to be big challenge during a pandemic, and the media now is forced to find new ways on how to source for information while keeping to safe distancing and health protocols, he said. 

Suhaimi said in this respect, the COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionised media reporting with video and audio conferencing now being the new norm in the way news is being reported, while great connectivity and technology suddenly is in much demand.

The blessing in disguise, he summarised, was that the pandemic has opened the eyes of the media in the sense that practitioners would now be more ready to face similar crisis situations in the future.  

The two-hour session was also participated by renowned speakers including National Health Institute (NIH) Health Education Officer Khairulnissa Abdul Kadir; Science Writing Consultant for Current Science Magazine India, KP Madhu and Dr Emma Rhule from the United Nation University-International Institute for Global Health.


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