BH Journalists: Appeal to editors and journalists of BH media to report responsibly and ethically on the COVID-19 pandemic

Sarajevo, March 19, 2021 – The Steering Committee of the BH Journalists Association invites editors, journalists and all media professionals in Bosnia and Herzegovina to report on current events related to the COVID-19 pandemic professionally, objectively and respecting the ethical standards of the journalistic profession, especially the privacy and dignity of patients, and not to subject to sensationalism and the publication of news that spreads fear and unrest among the population.

We are witnesses that the current situation regarding coronavirus in BiH is the most difficult since the beginning of the pandemic, as evidenced by the data on the numbers of newly infected and the deceased. Most of the media have been doing their job tirelessly and professionally for a year, exposing themselves to the constant risk of infection to convey objective, accurate and useful information in the interest of the citizens. Unfortunately, recently some media outlets have been publishing news and stories that can further upset their fellow citizens, especially those who have COVID-19 or whose family members are currently in hospitals.

Under the label “exclusive”, some media published videos from the COVID ward of Sarajevo’s hospitals treating the most difficult patients, and even took statements from patients and published the names of the deceased before their family members received notification of the death. In addition, unverified and inaccurate information about alleged lack of oxygen in hospitals, (non) procurement of vaccines or inaccurate and sensationalist information about the side effects of vaccines are often transmitted, which also brings confusion and fear among citizens.

The Steering Committee of BH Journalists considers that this way of media reporting is extremely irresponsible and contrary to the code of the journalistic profession. As a reminder, ethical standards for electronic and print media require journalists to “maintain high ethical standards towards the public at any time and under any circumstances.” Also, key principles of journalistic ethics dictate that media workers “avoid interfering in one’s private life”, that “topics involving personal tragedies must be treated with care” and that patients and all others affected by the pandemic should be approached “discreetly and with compassion”.

We call on all media professionals to take into account the above provisions of the Code and adapt their way of reporting to the crisis situation, respecting the fact that many of our fellow citizens are scared and worried, faced with the uncertainty of the further course of the pandemic. At the same time, we call on the directors and managers of health institutions in Sarajevo Canton and throughout BiH to respect the right to privacy of their patients, which is their legal, medical and moral obligation, and to respond to media inquiries and requests for recording within hospitals and health centers with maximum of protection of the identity of patients, as well as to not provide information to the media about their health condition without their consent and without prior assessment of the public interest in each case.

The Steering Committee of BH Journalists once again emphasizes that journalists and media in BiH have made an immeasurable contribution to informing the public on all relevant aspects related to the new coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. We believe that our colleagues will continue to report on this topic on a daily basis guided by the principles of the profession and ethics, as most of them have done so far.

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