Reporting the Covid-19 pandemic: The Challenges

Over the past few months, the world has been battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses, Schools and restaurants are closed, stock markets are nose-diving while millions around the world are coming to terms with a world of self-isolation and social distancing

News media reporting is understood to play a central role during national security and health emergencies. News coverage communicates risks to readers and shapes public perceptions through the amount, content, and tone of reporting. It simultaneously frames ongoing public debates about policy responses, including conflicting priorities relevant to the timing or stringency of implemented policies

 In these complex circumstances, news media serve as a primary source of health information and uncertainties and connect health professionals, policymakers, and the public in critical ways. The quality and balance of scientific coverage, such as through reporting that reflects the state of scientific knowledge and is not overstated, affect trust in science and accountability for decision-making.

Inadequate scientific quality in news coverage of past pandemics has posed risks and limited capacities to disseminate public-health guidance and coordinate responses. Reporting on the state of scientific knowledge during a novel, the evolving pandemic is challenging. Low-quality scientific reporting of pandemics may overstate or understate disease risks or the efficacy of protective measures for different individuals or fail to communicate the nature of the evidence.

Such reporting may constrain the feasibility or effectiveness of options for policymakers directing government action, miss opportunities to inform individuals making health decisions, and increase the exposure of health professionals to disease. It can both exacerbate disease outcomes and generate unnecessary fear, in combination with other factors shaping perceptions among the public.