BY Elena Cosentino, INSI director

From our Director: 'Victims can no longer be just statistics'

Few of us have lived through times when the dissemination of accurate information is so directly and inextricably linked to the physical safety, the survival even, of such a huge number of people.

While scientists hold the facts on coronavirus, it is the news media that can show how these facts affect each person’s life, the lives of everyone around them and even the wider global community. Only then can people make informed decisions, hopefully in the best interest of society at large.

It is already clear that the price for not doing so is incalculable. News media as public service is at its zenith. But it is also facing unprecedented dilemmas.

Victims can no longer be just statistics. Telling the story properly means getting close to the people who are most affected by the coronavirus: the grieving families and the survivors. It means shadowing doctors and nurses on the frontlines in the hospitals of Milan, London or New York, so their lessons can be passed on. It means checking if what politicians are saying stacks up against reality.

Journalists have always taken personal risks to push boundaries and tell stories the public need to know. But in a pandemic no risk is just personal.

Our colleagues will be running outside towards the virus, as the rest of the world is retreating indoors. They will be seeking out those who are saving lives in hospitals and challenging government policies, all at a time when national concord is expected. They will be accused of getting in the way, of voyeurism or even prurience, despite risking their own lives to show the human face of this global crisis.

Most audiences have still only seen or read the story of coronavirus as mediated by scientists and politicians, or as narrated via social media sound bites. All of us are struggling to properly grasp what’s really happening – disastrous at a time when we must understand clearly what we need to do to save countless lives.

This is where excellent public service journalism comes in. Good journalists give the public a chance to see, empathise and comprehend what’s happening, through stories expertly and responsibly told.

This is also where INSI comes in. Over the past 18 years, we’ve successfully worked to promote and strengthen cooperation and the exchange of information among competitors in the news industry, all around the common goal of safety. As our members grapple with their conflicting duties, fears and responsibilities, INSI will be there to make sure our colleagues have all the tools and knowledge to stay safe as they take on the biggest story of their lifetime.

Elena Cosentino, INSI director

Image by AFP