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African Journalists upskilled on the Science of Covid-19

On July 27th and 28th, 2021 the African Union of Broadcasting organized in partnership with UNESCO, the very-first Pan-African capacity building seminar under the theme: Handling Covid-19 in the Media in Africa".

The hybrid gathering took place simultaneously online, via Zoom and in-erson at Dakar's Good Rade Hotel, in Senegal.

Presided over by the African Union of Broadcasting's Chief Executive Officer, Grégoire NDJAKA, the workshop opened with a minute of silence in tribute to journalists who died of Covid-19 since the rise of the disease. To date, the world has lost more than four million people across the globe among which tens of journalists and their relatives, due to corona virus.

The AUB CEO then thanked the two high profile experts, Mr Emmanuel WONGIBE, Deputy-Director General of the Cameroon Radio Television and Dr. Mactar SILLA, President-Director General of Labl Group for their readiness to share their experience with the younger generation.

After wishing a war welcome to participants, Mr Ndjaka addressed words of gratitude to UNESCO for partening with the AUB in empowering African Media Porfessionals during during critical times.

Following a brief history of the Covid-19 pandemic by the CEO, the floor was then given to the Representative of the World Health Organization, Dr Christian ITAMA MAYIKULI.

In this presentation, Dr ITAMA highlighted the role played by the world Health Organization in coordination the Global Response to the pandemic since its start in 2020. Via zoom, he displayed a ten-point plan on the follow-up of the pandemic, the overall assitance to the African continent, the planning and counsllling provided by the World Health Organization.

According to him, more than 77 million vaccine doses have been handed over to 50 African countries. Nevertheless, 60 million people have been administered the vaccine, and only 21 million have received full vaccine doses in Africa.

Before quitting the seminar, the WHO's Representative urged Media Professionals to double efforts in fighting misinformation, disinformation and Fake News. These social scourges, according to him, are one of the reasons why African populations are reluctant to Covid-19 vaccine. He finally presented vaccine as the best alternative against Covid-19 and encouraged each and everyone to go for it.

On his side, Dr Mactar SILLA noted with a tinge of disappointment, the general cacophony in the communcation around the Covid-19 pandemic: "each country pretends to be a champion in the fight with contradictory messgaes than can destabilize the populations. It is important to know how to deliver the right messgae in such circumtances", he said. According to the Media Expert, this can only be done if and only if Media Professionals work hand in hand with Health Practionners and obtain the accurate information from public authorities, in due time.

Regarding the profession, Mr Silla pleaded for a more important air time for scientific programs in African Newsrooms. He recalled with regret those years when media professionals used to conceive, produce and broadcast short programs like "The Health Minute" to raise awareness on specific illnesses and encouraged AUB to bring back such initiatives than can be supported by important partners like UNESCO and the WHO.

The seminar opened properly with an introduction to the science of Covid-19. Three modules were completed on the first day. Mr. Emmanuel WONGIBE, seniro journalist with more than 25 years of Professional experience, upskilled participants and expanded their capacities on the historical background of the corona virus, the difference between factual and false scientific information, and the Covid-19 reporting challenges. "The course si scientific, but the whole story of Covid-19 is the story of human survival", he said.

During the brainstorming session, participants were tested on their mastery of the Covid-19 environment. Worksheets were distributed for pratical exercises so as to enable tham upgrade their level of understanding of the pandemic.

In the course of discussions, Mr Wongibe laid an emphasis onthe seriousness of science journalism. He advised young colleagues in the profession to take the example of sports journalists who do their work with passion, to an extend that they are capable of citing players by names and natinality, regardless of age.

"Let it be clear, he said, we are not in any way hoping or trying to transform journalists into scientists, it would not happen. But we want to give journalists the basic tools to make tem be aware of how the world of science operates, how the science of Covid works, so that they can better tell their stories".

Without an understanding of these basics, he explained, journalists will tell stories that lack exactitude; or tell stories at times which are erroneous and this would hurt the credibility of the profession.

Mr Wongibe reiterated that the journalistic approach to work is different in many way from the scientific approach. Scientific works, as he underlines, is an eviden-based assignment approach: "You cannont use balance which is very important for us journalists, beacuse we wand to hear the other side. If you want to hear the other side in science, what do you hear? You would hear people who think the vaccine, for instance, is not good".

On the second day, participants were given tools to differenciate between misinformation and disinformation, identify their common traits, identify their spreaders and understand how they are being spread. During practical works, participants were assigned to decode a medical notice and interpret its content using journalist approach.

Experts Wongibe made a clear difference bewteen evolutive and text book science. "In evolutive science, there is nothing written as stone, things keep changing as it is the case with the Covid-19, presently", he said.

The expert also urged journalists to avoid the use of anecdotes which are not reliable Data in Science and are brief revealing accounts of individuals.

At the end of the workshop, participants expressed satisfaction as per the quality of the presentations and urged the AUB to perpepatrate this initiative. To this effect, a Pan-african Network of Media Professionals was created to better discuss issues relating to the Covid-19 pandemic in African newsrooms. Mr DJAKA reassured participants of the will of the Union to concretize this initiave.

After receiving their certificates from the hands of the Seminar Chair, participants left the Good Rade Hotel, with the hope of meeting in-person or virtualy for another professional endeavor.



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