HJN Ambassador in India Trains Journalism Students on Critical Health Communication Skills

HJN Ambassador Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai was one of several trainers who participated in a two-day workshop on evidence-based health journalism organized by the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, in collaboration with UNICEF India.

Muralik is a panelist at a health journalism workshop in India
Image courtesy of Harsha Vadlamani

Over 120 students of journalism and mass communication, and a small cohort of working journalists, came together to learn the importance of evidence-based reporting and fact-checking in health journalism through UNICEF’s Critical Appraisal Skills (CAS) program. The workshop brought together practitioners of UNICEF’s CAS program, alongside journalism students and subject-matter experts to discuss the importance of evidence-based reporting in areas that impact children such as routine Immunization, COVID-19 and vaccines, antibiotics, maternal and child health and primary healthcare.

The CAS program was developed by UNICEF in 2014 in collaboration with Oxford University, Thomson Reuters and IIMC. Specifically designed for working journalists and students of journalism and mass communication, it is now an elective course in the curriculum of IIMC and MANUU.

“The recent pandemic has driven the world’s attention towards the importance of health communication,” said Prof. Syed Ainul Hasan, Vice Chancellor of MANUU, at the start of the workshop. “Media can play a vital role in creating demand for immunization. However, as many of our journalists come from a non-medical background, the introduction of CAS at the academic level helps train journalists in health journalism and encourage scientific mindset among the masses.”

Zafrin Chowdhury, Chief of Communication, Advocacy and Partnerships for UNICEF India, added that, “UNICEF has long worked with the media on its critical role in building opinions and influencing people. The Critical Appraisal Skills course was developed in 2014 to strengthen skills in media professionals for accurate, balanced, analytical reporting and fact checking to guard against misinformation. The idea is to increase accurate and reliable media reports on issues that impact children, such as immunization, provide parents the right information and confidence to vaccinate their children and protect them from preventable childhood illnesses.”

Lack of awareness, scare-mongering and misconceptions regarding immunization have been some of the major challenges during the vaccination program against COVID-19 and routine immunization efforts.

Prof. Ehtesham Ahmed Khan, Dean of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at MANUU, said that, “Misconceptions, myths and misinformation harm the society more than the lack of information. In case of a pandemic situation, misinformation and disinformation can derail outreach of public health programs and adversely affect people. CAS plays an important role in building a holistic 360-degree science-based communication narrative, addressing misinformation, promoting awareness, undertaking capacity-building of media, rigorous analysis of news reports, official/authoritative scientific discourses, thought series in media to counter any negative discourse.”

Dr NK Arora, Chairman, COVID-19 Working Group, National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, interacted with the students and journalists virtually on the COVID-19 vaccination and urged the media to find innovative ways to break through information fatigue and encourage all eligible people to take their vaccine shots on time. The participants, students and senior mentors of the Critical Appraisal Skills course, shared their experiences of reporting during the pandemic. This will inform the updated version of the course.

Workshop participants
Health journalism workshop participants. Photo courtesy of Harsha Vadlamani

Chinnadurai, Internews HJN Ambassador for India, mentored the group of students and working journalists on ways to cover COVID -19 and vaccines. He insisted on the need for health journalists to commit to rigorous scientific research in these “infodemic” times and shared best practices to access data and report on health. He also encouraged students to enroll in the Internews free online courses Let’s Talk Covid-19 and Let’s Talk Vaccines. Chowdhury honored Chinnadurai for mentoring students in health journalism.

Muralik receives a n honorary certificate
Muralik receives an acknowledgement plaque for his work with local journalists. Image courtesy of Harsha Vadlamani

Professor Sangeeta Pranvendra, Director of the English Journalism Department at IIMC in New Delhi, said that, “The COVID-19 pandemic put forth a situation where the media fraternity realized afresh the need to have well informed, critically thinking journalists who could play a positive role in reporting on health issues, informing the public and also avoiding misinformation. CAS goes a long way in promoting these skills in the journalism students.”