03 September 2014
Over 2,000: the number of deaths caused by the recent Ebola outbreak. The virus had spread across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, before a few cases were reported in Nigeria. We asked Azubuike Ishiekwene, Managing Editor of Leadership Newspaper (Nigeria) to tell us more about the coverage.
How is it covering Ebola from within the outbreak region? How do journalists work?
Azubuike Ishiekwene: The initial response (after the first index case was reported) was one of panic and alarm. Journalists were not sure of the extent of the spread, the nature of the virus or the capacity of state officials to respond. It was worsened by the fact that it coincided with a time when doctors in the public hospitals were on strike. Most of the reports at the early stages relied on foreign news sources. Our media coverage now relies on our sources, cross-checked with foreign reports.
Social networks are strong in Nigeria: how do you make sense of them as a publisher?
Azubuike Ishiekwene: Social networks have been extremely useful in helping to create awareness, identifying risks and sharing solutions. Because of ease and relatively low cost of travel, it is important to engage the public as quickly as possible. That was what many publishers used their online assets to do. Bloggers were also a huge part of the conversation. Basic information about what Ebola means, how it is contracted, prevention and management were widely available on social media.
What do you think about the international coverage of Ebola?
Azubuike Ishiekwene: There was a sense that they expected the worst. Foreign reportage was largely negative and stereotypical. As I mentioned in a column in Leadership at the end of August: 'I listened to an expert on CNN and smiled as he spoke. He said something to the effect that an Ebola epidemic in Nigeria would be the world’s most unwanted disaster. What he didn’t say was obvious from reading his lips. It’s not just the potential devastation of the deadly disease on a country with our population and size that frightened him. There was this hint that Nigeria being Nigeria, should Ebola take root here, the world might have to leave everything to help save us from ourselves.'
- PDF from the International Center for Investigative Journalist: Useful Tips for Journalists Reporting Ebola