AAJA Calls on News Organizations to exercise care in Coverage of the Coronavirus Outbreak

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is urging journalists to exercise care in their coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in China to ensure accurate and fair portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans and to avoid fueling xenophobia and racism that have already emerged since the outbreak.

Some of the news and commentary that have raised concern include:

  • Use of images of people wearing face masks without providing the proper context: For many years prior to the coronavirus outbreak, face masks have been commonly used in East Asian countries, including for protection from pollution. This practice has crossed over into immigrant Asian American populations in the United States and the masks are now more prevalent as a result of the outbreak. AAJA urges news outlets to consider the various reasons for the face masks and provide context when using such images. 
  • Use of generic images of Chinatown: Only include images of a local Chinatown if it is directly related to a news story, not as a way to illustrate the virus. The images are appropriate, for example, if the story is about Chinatown businesses emptying out over fears of the virus, or if there are potential cases stemming from a particular Chinatown. AAJA warns against blanket use of Chinatown images that reinforce stereotypes and create a sense of “otherness.”  
  • Use of the term “Wuhan virus,” “China coronavirus,” or “Chinese coronavirus,” or any other term that uses geographic locations or refers to a population to describe the virus: The World Health Organization issued guidelines in 2015 discouraging the use of geographic locations when naming illnesses because it could stigmatize the people living there. Coronavirus is the umbrella term for a large group of viruses that can cause anything from the common cold to SARS, according to The Associated Press stylebook. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the virus that originated out of Wuhan.

Meanwhile, 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. For example, news outlets have covered the impact on daily lives of residents in and around Wuhan; the culture and history of Wuhan beyond its relation to coronavirus; efforts to help businesses in local Chinatowns affected by fear over the virus; the proliferation of xenophobic incidents against those of East Asian descent around the world; and more.

AAJA encourages journalists to turn to reliable resources like the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control in their ongoing reporting. And as always, AAJA is available to engage in a dialogue to foster fair and accurate coverage of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

– AAJA MediaWatch Committee

Revised March 19, 2020

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