Risk Assessment Introduction
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, every country and every citizen has felt its irreversible impacts. Initially, many governments imposed strict nation-wide lockdowns, but were ultimately faced with the challenge of supporting the economy or healthcare systems. Not only were global citizens at constant risk of contracting COVID-19, but the fallout from the pandemic was massive: civil unrest, economic and political instability, and simply just the unknowns. The pandemic threw the world into chaos as the first modern global health crisis. In the past two years, restrictions have largely been eased, vaccines were created, misinformation is on the rise, and yet we still have not returned to normal—and we may never. Through all of this, journalists have been the bridge between the scientific community and governments, and the citizens.
IREX’s SAFE Initiative published the first Risk Assessment Briefing Paper, which shared predictions on how COVID-19 may affect the work of the project, the people SAFE works with, the donor community, and the journalism sector, as well as recommendations to prepare these actors and seize the opportunities. At the end of 2021, SAFE decided it was necessary to update the Risk Assessment to consider the newfound challenges, opportunities, and recommendations.
Informing all sections of the Risk Assessment was gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) considerations. COVID-19 deepened many existing intercommunal divides, as well as made those with already higher vulnerabilities incur increased xenophobia, propaganda, misinformation, harassment, and more. However, the pandemic allowed for the opportunity for SAFE and similar initiatives with a mandate in protecting journalists to focus on marginalized populations and give them the tools to protect themselves by being accurately informed. In terms of the journalism sector, COVID-19 intensified the rapid shift from print to online media, caused layoffs and closures, and may have decreased trust with audiences due to misinformation. Despite these challenges, media organizations and journalists played an integral role during the pandemic to disseminate critical, public health information. For physical safety, journalists faced the major challenge of being on the frontlines, sometimes covering civil unrest from the fallout of the virus, and at constant risk of catching COVID-19, especially when media houses did not provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Yet, the pandemic led to a heightened awareness of physical safety knowledge needs. The work from home reality for many was not felt by some journalists who had to be on the frontlines, but COVID-19 still caused challenges in regards to digital safety; some governments tracked citizens with vaccine-related apps to pinpoint COVID-19 risks, there was a deepening of the digital divide, and increased online harassment. Nonetheless, the relevance of the internet allowed for journalists to connect more easily in support groups with each other, as well as programs like SAFE to reach beneficiaries they previously thought impossible. Of all challenges, however, psychosocial pressures effected journalists the absolute most and provided the major opportunity to bring awareness to mental health needs. While every individual globally was affected by COVID-19, journalists and the journalism sector are certainly irreversibly changed.
For more information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected journalists through obstacles and opportunities, as well as recommendations to improve journalists’ physical, digital, and psychosocial wellbeing, read SAFE’s updated Risk Assessment.