Beware fake news on coronavirus, public warned

Media company Primedia has warned members of the public not to allow themselves to be swayed by, or become, unwitting distributors of misinformation regarding coronavirus outbreak which has rocked countries and markets around the world.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday evening that South Africa would go under a nationwide lockdown for 21 days with effect from midnight on Thursday 26 March.

The Primedia statement made reference to Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who last week set out the regulations in terms of Section 27 (2) of the Disaster Management Act, making the spreading of misinformation on Covid-19 a punishable offence.

Primedia Group chief business officer Geraint Crwys-Williams said in the statement released by the company that it was crucial to focus on debunking the myths and misinformation in circulation.

"Now, more than ever, the role of accountable and credible media has come to the fore. Government officials and healthcare professionals are using trusted broadcast media and digital platforms of established, verified, media outlets to circulate correct information on Covid-19," said Crwys-Williams.

Crwys-Williams urged all South Africans to be mindful of the source of information that they receive as misinformation does not just cause unnecessary panic, but also puts citizens at risk. 

"We have a duty of care to our employees, our communities and our audience to provide accurate, informative communication to ensure we play our part in reducing, not just the spread of the virus, but of unnecessary panic too," Crwys-Williams said.

The statement made reference to a piece of misinformation last week which claimed that government advised South Africans to stay indoors as planes sprayed chemicals across the country. This false message was shared 8 000 times on Facebook, the statement said.

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