Coronavirus round-up: press freedom, the infodemic, and how the virus is impacting the black community

Our personal weekly selection about journalism and innovation.

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Edited by Marco Nurra


10 reasons to doubt the Covid-19 data. The numbers can give some sense of what’s happening — as long as we recognize their flaws.

How COVID-19 is threatening press freedom: An interview with CPJ’s Joel Simon. As political leaders around the globe battle the coronavirus, a growing number of national governments are using the crisis to punish journalists for their critical reporting. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, non-profit organization that monitors press freedom violations throughout the world. In a recent column for Columbia Journalism Review, the CPJ’s executive director, Joel Simon, warns that the news media crackdown could lead to long-term curbs on the global information system. In an email interview with veteran journalist Ann Cooper — a former executive director of the CPJ and a fellow this spring at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy — Simon detailed some of the restrictions and noted that western political leaders have failed to speak out against them. He also discussed some of the measures journalists can take to protect themselves while reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, both in terms of physical and cyber security.

Journalists, intellectuals and dissidents are being threatened by India’s government. For a long time now, India has benefited from the title of world’s largest democracy (meaning, in fact, the most populous democratic state). That grand moniker continues to lull the world into believing constitutional rights and freedoms thrive in that nation, when they are in fact under grave threat. Although the misuse of state powers to intimidate principled journalists and of religious divides to garner votes has occurred under other governments, including those of the current Congress opposition, there is little doubt that the last six years of Modi’s government have seen an alarming crackdown on campus dissidents as well as journalists and writers.

Spanish fact-checkers targeted after WhatsApp limits forwarding. Not long after WhatsApp decided to limit message-forwarding in an effort to stem the spread of misinformation, supporters of Spain’s right-wing Vox party started a campaign of digital harassment against fact-checkers from Newtral.es and Maldita.es.

How right-wing media is covering the COVID-19 epidemic. As the nation girded to face its biggest challenge since World War II, much of the coronavirus coverage from right-wing websites—websites that you may never have heard of, but which are read by millions every day—was characterized by faulty projections, inflammatory anti-Chinese rhetoric, and over-the-top praise for President Trump.

China, conspiracy theories, and the murky coronavirus origin story.  There’s no question that right-wing China hawks, from the internet to the White House, have weaponized information about the origins of the virus—be it fact, rumor, or outright lunacy—to advance a political agenda. President Trump has referred to the virus as the “Chinese virus” and the “Wuhan virus,” part of a broader effort to dodge blame for its spread in the US. There are, however, many legitimate questions to ask about China’s lack of transparency.

Coronavirus: Facebook will start warning users who engaged with ‘harmful’ misinformation. Users who have liked, shared or commented on posts with false claims will be directed to WHO’s ‘myth busters’ page.

Navigating the ‘infodemic’: how people in six countries access and rate news and information about coronavirus. In this new report, the Reuters Institute uses survey data collected in late March and early April 2020 to document and understand how people in six countries (Argentina, Germany, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and the US) accessed news and information about COVID-19 in the early stages of the global pandemic, how they rate the trustworthiness of the different sources and platforms they rely on, how much misinformation they say they encounter, and their knowledge of and responses to the coronavirus crisis.

What went wrong with the media’s coronavirus coverage? Since alarming reports about Covid-19 began to emerge from China in January, the media often provided information to Americans that later proved to be wrong, or at least inadequate. Laura Helmuth, who was the health and science editor at the Washington Post and recently left to become editor-in-chief of Scientific American, says acknowledging gaps in knowledge is crucial but not easy. “One thing that science journalists have been getting better at is not just saying what we do know, but what we don’t know,” she says. “But most journalists aren’t accustomed to doing that.”

Linking to older stories is usually noble, but for coronavirus, it can be a recipe for a misinformed audience. Through today’s lens, many coronavirus news stories from January and February seem breezy and untroubled…Many of these stories continue to circulate on social media.

This new newsletter looks to inform the black community about the coronavirus. Though often referred to as the “great equalizer,” the novel coronavirus has disproportionately hit black communities and decades of disparities are now on full display. Journalist Patrice Peck is dedicated to covering all of this with her newsletter, Coronavirus News For Black Folks. Peck, who has written for and/or worked at publications including EBONY, NBC’s The Grio, HuffPost Black Voices, CNN, The New York Times, and BuzzFeed, is sharing how the virus is impacting the black community worldwide.

A global journalism emergency relief fund for local news. The funding is open to news organizations producing original news for local communities during this time of crisis, and will range from the low thousands of dollars for small hyper-local newsrooms to low tens of thousands for larger newsrooms, with variations per region.

(Image via Mother Jones)