Nairobi, 29 May 2020  - About 120 participants joined the ninth COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campus session to exchange on challenges of reporting during the pandemic. Organized by the World Urban Campaign, in partnership with Smartly and First and Main Films, the webinar brought together journalists, reporters and film makers in a lively debate.

Zoe Tabary, Property Rights Editor at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, outlined the challenges posed by lockdowns and travel restrictions.  She said this imposed huge limitations on their ability to properly verify information, to obtain people’s trust which is easiest through personal contact or to show behind the scenes content or what life is like during lockdown.  The media also face challenges in meeting vulnerable groups such as the homeless, migrant workers and LGBT communities, to ensure they are not put at risk through physical contact or identified.  

Theresa Williamson, Executive Director at Catalytic Communities, Brazil, mentioned the importance of community reporting as obtaining reliable information becomes challenging with confusing or inaccurate data being released by official authorities and difficulties arranging direct interviews.  She said  journalists are chasing alternative data from trust-based networks such as RioOnWatch, a favela ‘local to global’ news source that reports on news from city’s favelas in real time, in  Portuguese and English. She added that the reporting aims to support local organizers and such projects should expand globally to better reflect the reality on the ground.

Elijah Kanyi, Reporter and Founder of Sauti TV, a community channel based in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s largest slums explained how their programmes have focused on promoting positive stories depicting how people in communities have helped each others during the pandemic. He said community media played an important role by reaching out to groups such as youth living in slums to explain how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Alexander Hecht who works on  the Asia Foreign News Desk at the  Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), explained the challenges of finding information, understanding decisions made by the authorities and following the analysis and data produced by medical experts.,  He said the media’s role was to simplify the language used medical experts so the public could understand it. And he called for a balance between reporting on local perspectives and global issues and on urban and rural contects.

Ashley Womble, writer and mental health advocate and Director of Communication of Crisis Text Line, explained how her organization supports people in crisis through counselling using a secure online platform based on text messages. The organization shares data on its website.

John Paget and Chris Elisara, Co-founders of First and Main Films producing documentary-style narratives and films said that apart from the daily news cycle, it was also important to appreciate ‘slow’ media  producing documentaries and films that explore and investigate issues, reflect on the future and produce stories with emotional power.

Participants emphasized the importance of an inclusive news ecosystem that reaches different levels from global to local, representing varied groups and viewpoints in a wide range of contexts and communities. It is crucial to develop networks of freelancers and local journalists on the ground to help fact checking, interpreting data and numbers and getting local contexts and insights.