13 March 2020

Message of the President of IAPA Christopher Barnes about the coronavirus

"I am confident that as with any other challenges faced by our industry and in spite of the magnitude of this challenge, we will prevail."

Miami, March 16, 2020 - The president of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), Christopher Barnes, CEO of The Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica, in the face of the global public health emergency, has addressed the following message to partners of IAPA and the media industry.

Dear IAPA Colleagues,

Following closely on the heels of postponing the mid-year assembly in Saltillo, on Tuesday of last week Jamaica announced its first confirmed case of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Today's tally of 10 cases confirms my country has officially entered what is expected to be a sustained period of significant healthcare sector challenges and likely an economic slowdown. Many of you are about to or are already experiencing same from this global pandemic.

Notwithstanding the economic threat posed to our industries, as media owners and managers it is incumbent upon us to assume our roles as essential service providers in this period of heightened emergency and take all necessary steps to help guide your countries through this pandemic event.

In this light I am reaching out to you to steer our thoughts towards the following:

1. The safety of our employees must be paramount. If we don't take care of ourselves we will be unable to help others. In that vein I encourage all of you to implement and observe the published health protocol benchmarks in your own facilities including frequent handwashing, sanitisation and practicing social distancing. Please also be vigilant in identifying and dealing appropriately with potentially compromised persons. Regrettably, unlike our other private sector counterparts, we are on the front line of this battlefield and are unable to shut down operations completely. We should not take for granted our staff's concerns regarding exposure; empathy, communication and transparency where that is concerned will go a far way to keep them motivated to do their critical work. At the secretariat in Miami, we have already taken the decision to implement "work from home" protocols with the assurance that the quality of work and support will be uninterrupted.

2. I urge caution in our editorial positioning of developments as they arise so as to not incite panic amongst our readers, viewers and listeners. Credible and objective, balanced reporting is required in order to best inform our audiences. Unsubstantiated information feeding the growing hysteria doesn't serve anyone in times like this. In the sea of disinformation, we should aim to position our media as places where persons can reliably turn to for accurate and credible information about this virus.

3. IAPA members should seek to support our countries' health authorities in getting out important messages. The investment in inventory we put in now is geared towards reducing the economic hurt we will all face if our countries don't recover quickly. It may be a good idea for each us to quantify and record our support given so that we can compile and at some point speak to the collective contribution we have made to the effort to fight the virus.

4. States of emergency, potentially triggered by events like these, may afford the government certain rights and privileges with respect to our media platforms. If you haven't already done so, you should refresh on the aspects of your licenses, where applicable, which deal with government rights under public emergencies so that you are aware of your rights and obligations.

5. IAPA members should stand ready to help each other, whether through technical arrangements or information and resource sharing, where possible, in order to make good on our national promises. Together we are stronger.

Naturally, freedom of the press is essential for us to do a good job of keeping our citizens informed during this crisis and I am confident that the IAPA executive, committees and secretariat will continue working to protect our members' best interests as they come under pressure from detractors in any space who may seek to suppress this inalienable right during this time.

If history is anything to go by, it is crises like these which bring out the best of IAPA. It is important that we band together to collectively show the value of our traditional media to our countries. I am confident that as with any other challenges faced by our industry and in spite of the magnitude of this challenge, we will prevail.

With every good wish for your continued safety,

Christopher Barnes

IAPA President

The IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from the Western Hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.