Communications and Public Affairs Officer Hanno Fenech on the role of opinion pieces in reporting on the Coronavirus
As the Coronavirus pandemic rapidly alters everyday life, people are are naturally seeking accurate and trustworthy information about the many changes occurring in the world. Newspapers and magazines are a key source of essential information for the public as they look to understand what is happening in these unprecedented and challenging times.
Alongside news reports and breaking news items, newspapers and magazines offer opinion, commentary and op-ed pieces which reflect an author’s personal views about a subject. But during such a serious health crisis, why don’t papers just report facts?
Opinion pieces are vitally important to a free press and to trust in journalism. They allow for greater elaboration and exploration of pressing issues and add different insights and viewpoints to debate.
In the specific context of COVID-19, opinion sections have hosted experts offering counterarguments and scrutinising prevailing strategies, and have brought to the fore first-hand accounts from those who have been directly impacted by the virus. These authors express their thoughts as informed by their own experience and with their own convictions and opinions on display. Accounts such as these challenge the public to think in a new way or see the crisis from a different perspective.
This is not to say that opinion piece operate outside of regulation. All editorial content, including opinion pieces, in IPSO member publications is regulated under the Editors’ Code of Practice. The first clause of the Code covers accuracy and makes clear that publications must distinguish between comment conjecture and fact and that care must also be taken to demonstrate that any facts included in opinion pieces are accurate.
As long as comment pieces are distinguished from factual reporting, newspapers and columnists are free to express different opinions, so long as they do so accurately and in accordance with other clauses of the Editors' Code. This could include controversial opinions, including those that many do not agree with. For example, newspapers are free to support or question coronavirus response measures or to suggest an alternative way of handling a situation.
Opinion and comment means we all are better informed in the face of this public health emergency. Whatever opinions are expressed in the press, whether we agree with them or not, readers can be confident that IPSO-member publications uphold the highest standards under the Editors’ Code of Practice.