PAHO/WHO for Suriname, 22 May 2020 - To increase the sensitivity-levels of the media to specific events and situations concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and to enhance their capabilities in reporting through a fundamental understanding of the underlying issues, PAHO took the initiative to hold on the 19th and 21st of May 2020 two inter-active Media Sensitization Sessions on COVID-19 Reporting.
One session was held in the capital Paramaribo and one in the western border district of Nickerie, in which 25 journalists from 16 news media participated. They were informed by technical staff of PAHO about aspects of COVID-19: the history, epidemiology, preventive measures, treatment, symptoms, types of tests, vaccination, misinformation, risk communication, community engagement and how to stay safe while reporting on COVID-19. The PAHO informative guide for journalists was translated into Dutch and distributed along with the COVID-19 glossary: outbreaks and epidemics.
Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell emphasized the role journalists play in the COVID-19 pandemic, next to the role of the government and the society. According to her journalists are a very critical and important player in communication with the public and sharing accurate information and PAHO really wants to support and assist them and provide them with enough information to be able to facilitate support the stories that are written and the kind of information that is being shared. Dr. Lewis Bell pointed to the weekly media briefings and the websites of WHO and PAHO with technical information and guidance and she encouraged the journalists to share the information they obtain from the websites, the press briefings and the sessions with the public.
“What is pertinent now is information about lessening (flattening) the curve and information about what to consider to lessen some of the public health and social measures, so that countries can re-open their economies and borders, but that does not mean that COVID-19 will disappear. Suriname is an example that after over 40 days of no cases then we had a new case.”
After pointing to information from PAHO and WHO, Dr. Lewis-Bell expressed the hope, that the journalists play their part to share information in the local media and their communities, so that individuals will understand what is required from them and hopefully modify their behavior.
After the shared information the journalists discussed possible stories to write about the topic. The sessions were interactive in which the journalists asked many questions and discussed critical issues about the reporting around COVID-19. According to the President of Suriname’s Journalism Association Carla Boëtius, it remains a challenge. At the end of the sensitization session she thanked PAHO for its willingness to invest in the journalists and she said she expected more of such initiatives. “We need it and maybe a pleasant cooperation will exist and that we also will be sensitized about other topics.”
The journalist Just Vriesde of Rasonic TV spoke on behalf of the journalists in Nickerie when he said: “We are happy with the information shared and thank you for not being hesitant despite being such a large organization and coming to Nickerie to share information with us without grumbling. We invite you to come more often for multiple sessions.”