Reporting from the frontline during a pandemic


Anjana Sankar

Published: Thu 16 Apr 2020, 12:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 Apr 2020, 4:54 PM

As this newspaper goes to press, two million cases of Covid-19 have been reported. To us journalists, it has been a timely reminder of why it's important to report from the ground. Every update matters, as does every story that inspires hope.
Over the years, my reporting assignments have taken me to some of the most hostile conflict zones around the world, places ravaged by war and violence. And yet, reporting on the pandemic pretty much feels like conflict reporting. Only this time, the world seems to be united in its fight against a common enemy - the virus. One that has posed a monumental challenge to even the most advanced healthcare systems in the world. A virus that is turning our very existence into binaries of positive and negative. A virus that is reducing death into data.
The enemy might be invisible, but it is not vastly different from the one we encounter in any conflict zone. It is pushy and persistent. Not easy to contain. Spirals out of our control right under our watch. Stays longer than anyone expects it to. The havoc it can wreak is grossly underestimated. It claims innocent lives.
As journalists, whether it's a war or pandemic, reporting from the frontline poses multiple challenges. Today, reporters whose safety gears would have been bullet-proof jackets and helmets are now donning hazmat suits and PPE gear. They are venturing into hospital wards to tell the stories of the vulnerable and those valiant fighters who have waged a battle against Covid-19.
Is it worth taking the risk? This question has often been asked of me when I have set out to report from conflict zones in Syria or squalid Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh or famine-ridden Yemen. Today, journalists reporting from coronavirus hotspots from across the world are having to answer the same questions.
So, what is the answer? Why do we do what we do? It's simple, really - much like any other essential service, dissemination of information is an important pursuit. People will need information that is credibly sourced and diligently checked to make the right choices. Human stories are what people need to keep hope alive.
At a time when millions across the globe are in self-quarantine, it's a tribe of healthcare professionals, social workers and journalists who will have to step out into the world and fight the battle from the frontline. At a time when misinformation can be just as contagious as a virus, good journalism can do the job of a ventilator - be a life-saver that provides the right information. Journalism, in the time of a pandemic, is public service.

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