Spare a thought for those covering pandemic

Sanef is alarmed by an attack on a SABC crew by community members
Sanef is alarmed by an attack on a SABC crew by community members
Image: Macor / 123RF Stock Photo

It is the story of a lifetime, with the makings of a modern-day Spanish flu, if you will.

Covid-19 has invaded our lives and is just about all everyone is talking about.

And covering the pandemic, being a part of documenting this outbreak, has been a rollercoaster ride for journalists — fast-paced and thrilling, but at the same time scary.

Journalists, like other essential service workers, have been at the forefront of containing the spread of Covid-19, albeit it in a different manner — using their words to provide crucial information to millions of South Africans.

But covering the pandemic has also presented the news industry — in SA and the world —  with unprecedented challenges: newsrooms are empty and newspapers are being produced virtually.

Journalists have been going around the country finding stories that tell the tale — good and bad — of how South Africans are getting through this pandemic.

They have done so, donning the necessary gear to protect themselves and armed with sanitiser, but also fully aware that they are potentially exposing themselves to the virus.

They do this because they realise that information plays such an important role in how Covid-19 is managed.

What they did not bank on was a threat of  different kind — communities in the areas where they work turning on them.

Just this week, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) expressed alarm after community members in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, threatened to burn the vehicle of an SABC crew.

“We have a critical job to play to responsibly inform and educate the public about the spread and containment of the virus,” Sanef said in a statement.

“In this case, it appears that community members turned against the media out of frustration due to their poverty and due to a lack of service delivery.”

While we understand these frustrations, now is not the time to vent them.

So we appeal to our fellow South Africans today: please spare a thought for those putting themselves at risk so you can acces as much information as possible to ensure your own safety.

And to those responsible for these attacks — or even contemplating such behaviour — think about this: to impede the work of journalists is not just a threat to media freedom, it is also an attack on the right of every single citizen to access information about this dangerous disease.

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