Dear Journalists,

I do not know much about your profession. I understand that you investigate and report what is happening around the world and in our local communities. Somehow you always manage to get to the other side of the world to report on events. At all hours of the day/night and in all weather conditions you get to the center of the action however remote. Some of you put yourselves in harm’s way to report from behind the scenes. You provide us information so that we can make better decisions about how we conduct ourselves. You enable us to help judge our leaders and public officials. Your work shapes how we perceive our fellow citizens and act. This is all praiseworthy. I thank you. 

With the global current events you have our ATTENTION even more than ever. Many of us are now socially isolated.  Your work now has immense power. While the financial markets are being decimated, your impact on the world has increased exponentially. You know what comes next? Now with great power, comes great responsibility. 

So far, I have not told you anything you don’t know. 

What I wanted to share with you is the latest newflash. Yesterday, we were your customers, now we are your patients.

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While we watch and applaud the caregivers around the world helping us through this event, it seems that you (or some of you) have missed the latest update. Journalists are now the mental health doctors of the world. Without your consent, without passing any medical diplomas and without any new law, your profession has been transformed. I now experience your work just like a patient is cared for by healthcare workers. I am no longer your customer, I am your patient. Neither of us intended this to happen but it has. 

As you are now newly appointed to the medical world, you must now follow the Hippocratic Oath. Since this is the year of learning Latin Expressions, the Oath contains such a Latin phrase. The Oath includes a Latin Expression “primum non nocere” which means “first, do no harm”. As an aside, here is how it is pronounced on Merrian Webster’s website. Maybe later I or someone I know will have COVID, but for now my “first” illness is a self-diagnosed Media Depression. The world is entirely infected.  

We may enter into a period similar to the Great Depression. That depression was triggered by a financial crisis. The famous saying I learned in school comes to mind “Brother, can you spare me a Dime”. Perhaps the mantra of this Depression will be  “Please turn off the news”. 

Later, we will look back to understand the current events. To do so, journalists, educators, scholars will rely on your work to understand what happened. What we will find is that your work in itself contributed to an unintended virus. In Physics they talk about the “observer effect”, the mere act of observing something has an impact on it.

There has always been pain and suffering around the world throughout time but now your work at present is harming more than the illness. Whichever study is cited on the % of people who will suffer from COVID, everyone I know is suffering from your work. Many of us, your patients now ration how and when we read, watch and listen to your work. We consciously decide not to consume your work because it is hurting us. I know you did not intend this to happen.

Imagine you are a patient. Everyone in your family is a patient. You are all very worried. You can’t go anywhere but wait at the hospital. You are all “quarantined” in the waiting room for an undermined amount of time. Your routine and your family’s routine becomes increasingly similar everyday. Everyone you know is in another separate waiting room at the hospital. You try and get through it. The loudspeaker perks up every second in different languages and accents telling you what is happening in the operating room. Every second, different images and videos are blasted in front of you and your family. What you are hearing and seeing is all true. You and your family take it all in. After sometime, you can’t take it and turn it off. You are allowed to see the doctor anytime but if you see the doctor the voice and images will come back. The same voices and images that are now giving your kids nightmares. The kids are confused because they thought you wanted to see the doctor to feel better. Eventually, you have the courage to go see the doctor.  Hopefully he tells you that you don’t have the virus but while in the waiting room you got infected from the media.

A doctor must exercise good bedside manners. However, bad the diagnosis, the doctor’s oath is “first, do no harm”. Each word and image you share with us is affecting our health and well being. We are passing on that stress and sharing it with our loved ones. You as doctors must care for us. 

Most recently, I have had some of the most rewarding personal conversations with my family, my relatives and strangers. I am grateful for these new experiences. My friend’s are also having these experiences. There is still good in these times. I understand that fear is more newsworthy but now as a doctor you have a new calling.

Like all professions, journalists follow a set of code. Since your role has changed, my suggestions are twofold. First, as journalists, you individually take the Oath.  You can take the Oath in your shower, whisper it to your pet, write it on a piece of paper, make it your new mantra, integrate it into your mindfulness exercises. Record yourself and post it below if you want. Ask yourself “Am I doing harm?” Second, I suggest that journalist associations adopt a new Charter to reflect their role in society. This would be similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). One of the basic tenets of UDHR is that everyone has the right to their own security. Just as it is illegal to shout fire in a public venue, the Journalists Charter would ensure that journalists through their work do not promote greater fear and insecurity. The Journalist Charter would reaffirm your work to inform but not to spread insecurity. This is just one such example.

The world of patients are now at your doctor’s office and have come for their appointment and knocking at your door. Please consider your bedside manners before you open the door. 

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