World News Day: US updates Covid-19 measures based on new findings; some media outlets misrepresent information, says Anthony Fauci

Dr Anthony Fauci stressed that the media has a crucial role to play in spreading accurate information.
Dr Anthony Fauci stressed that the media has a crucial role to play in spreading accurate information.PHOTO: CANADIAN JOURNALISM FOUNDATION

SINGAPORE - America's policies on handling the Covid-19 outbreak are constantly updated based on the most recent findings about the virus, said top coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci on Monday (Sept 28).

Speaking via a webcast during the World News Day celebrations, Dr Fauci, director of the United States' National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also stressed that the media has a crucial role to play in spreading accurate information, but there are some outlets that do otherwise.

"When you are having an evolving situation like Covid-19, which clearly is evolving at a very rapid rate, you make a recommendation or a policy based on the information that you have at a particular time," he said.

As more information comes in, the authorities need to be "humble enough and flexible enough" to change some of the original policies, he added.

"But some of the media who like to make hay of that keep saying, 'Oh you keep changing your mind all the time. Well, you were incorrect'. No, we were correct at the time that statement was made. But when the scientific data made it clear that we had to change that recommendation, we did," said Dr Fauci.

For example, he explained, there were not enough masks for essential workers initially, so not everyone was advised to wear one. But when the authorities learnt that asymptomatic individuals could also spread the virus, along with the resolved mask shortage, they began strongly recommending the wearing of masks.

The session, which was moderated by CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter, was part of the two-hour World News Day closing show organised by the Canadian Journalism Foundation and World Editors Forum.

The World News Day celebrations had begun earlier in Singapore with a webinar titled Covid-19: How Can You Contribute?, live-streamed from the newsroom of The Straits Times.

Mr Stelter, who also hosted the closing webcast, said in his opening remarks: "When it feels like the answers have been in short supply, we have relied on journalists to chase the truth, we've relied on journalists to convey this truth through, and try to cut through the daily flurry of misinformation that surrounds us more than ever."

The two-hour show included discussions on a variety of topics, such as the media coverage of police and protests, urgency and agency in covering the climate crisis, and press freedom in the modern age.

It featured panellists such as journalists and newsmakers, including protesters and professional athletes.


Mr Oscar Jimenez, a CNN correspondent based in Chicago, shared about his experience getting arrested while reporting on live television about a protest in Minneapolis over the death of an unarmed black man in police custody.

He said it was a reminder that press credentials really mean nothing when you are on the ground. "Because you - in that moment, whether you like it or not, as a member of the press - are now just part of whatever volatile situation is actually happening," he said.

National Geographic's senior environment editor Robert Kunzig and senior executive editor Indira Lakshmanan also had a chat about the ongoing climate crisis.

The impact of local news, misinformation and the pressures big technology firms face was another topic discussed, with Google's vice-president of news Richard Gingras sharing his views.

The show also featured performances by artistes, such as Grammy winner Macy Gray, who sang her hit song I Try.

During his segment on the Covid-19 crisis, Dr Fauci also stressed that it is "extraordinarily critical" for the authorities to work closely with the media to get accurate information out to the public.

"Now, for at least 36 or more years since I have been the director of the institute, the one thing that is different right now is that some of the media that I deal with really kind of, I wouldn't say 'distort' things, but certainly give opposing perspectives on what seems to be a pretty obvious fact or a body of data. And so I try not to get too perturbed by that," he said.

He said that American outlet Fox News has good reporters, but noted that "some of the things that they report there are outlandish, to be honest with you".


He also added that he has always kept his political leanings separate from his professional work.

In the webcast's closing segment, Philippine news website Rappler co-founder Maria Ressa spoke to ABC7 News reporter Kris Reyes about the current state of press freedom.

Ms Ressa said that while social media started off very promisingly, it went south as authoritarian regimes were able to control people's behaviour based on data collected, and by suppressing the spread of information by targeting journalists.

"By next year, I would have been a journalist for 35 years. I have never been under attack as much as I have today, just for doing my job. It is worse than a war zone, it is worse than any conflict zone. And I guess that brings it home - that is the conflict zone, that is the war zone. The war is for facts," she said.