Journalists group asks media to report on coronavirus responsibly

The Asian American Journalists Association points out that reports of xenophobia and discrimination toward Asians and Asian Americans have surfaced across the country.

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By Julian Shen-Berro

The Asian American Journalists Association on Thursday called on news outlets reporting on the coronavirus outbreak to be accurate and mindful about their coverage.

In a statement, the group said growing concerns over the virus have been accompanied by increased hostility and discrimination toward Asians and Asian Americans. The posting cautions against “fueling xenophobia and racism that have already emerged since the outbreak.”

The AAJA, which has more than 1,500 members across the United States and Asia, included a set of guidelines for responsible reporting, imploring media outlets to take care when attaching images to stories. The statement warned against using generic imagery of Chinatowns, or of Asians wearing masks, unless they are properly contextualized and relevant to the story.

"AAJA warns against blanket use of Chinatown images that reinforce stereotypes and create a sense of 'otherness,'" the advisory said.

It also urged journalists not to use the term “Wuhan virus,” which is not an officially designated term and could stigmatize those from the Chinese city where the virus is believed to have originated.

Despite only 15 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., paranoia has spread quickly, with some members of the media playing a hand in stoking it. In January, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called for the U.S. to enact “a ban on Chinese passengers being permitted into the country.” Conservative pundit Ann Coulter also called for a ban, attacking Congress for failing “to block the coronavirus that will kill Americans.”

In an email last month, Robert Fullilove, a professor of sociomedical sciences at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center, told NBC News that media coverage of the virus, among other sources of information, could have a direct impact on the level of xenophobia.

“If anything, I am tempted to predict that xenophobia will rise in significance to precisely the degree to which our sources of information — all of them, not just media — give us stuff to panic about,” he said. “More panic, more the temptation to blame the outsider — the other.”

But as media outlets continue to cover the virus, the AAJA said not all coverage had been negative.

“AAJA is heartened to see examples of comprehensive, fair and accurate coverage of the outbreak, its impact in East Asian countries and among immigrant communities in the U.S. and around the world,” it said.