MAHLATSE MAHLASE: Letter to fellow journalists in this time of coronavirus


In just over 24 hours, the streets will stand empty, an eerie silence will replace the familiar noise of busyness.

There will be no hooting taxis, no usual rush to the taxi ranks , overloaded trains will be stationary.

Life as we know it will come to a standstill.

As South Africans prepare to stay put in their homes, journalists are thinking of angles and wondering which bases need to be covered.

Together with essential workers - which includes doctors, nurses, police, emergency personnel, military medical personnel, and soldiers - we are getting ready for a tough job ahead.

COVID-19 is the story of our lifetime. It calls on us to be courageous.

This is why we became journalists. Not only will we continue to hold those in authority to account, but we have an essential duty to inform the public.

Locked up in their homes, South Africans are looking to us for credible information.

In the face of the rising tide of fake news peddled by the second on social media, we must be the bulwarks.

This is not the time to get anything wrong. This not the time to create panic and hysteria. We have to exercise extreme care and sensitivity, ensure balance, have context in our stories and a multiplicity of voices.

The public's trust in the media has been on the decline. Reporting on the virus accurately, fairly and ethically gives us an opportunity to rebuild that relationship.

A difficult task lies ahead. We have our own personal lives to juggle while meeting deadlines.

We need to stay safe. We are not invincible against the disease. We are also part of communities and we need to protect ourselves and others.

Exercise the same care we are preaching, including practicing social distancing, washing our hands properly with soap and water, and using hand sanitisers.

Our media houses have a responsibility to ensure we are protected. No story is ever worth your life - we need you to continue telling more.

God speed and solidarity forever!

Mahlatse Mahlase is the chair of the South African National Editors' Forum, and group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @hlatseentle