Fri, 26 Feb 2021

Screengrab from Inquirer.net

JEERS TO Inquirer.net for running two advertorials about a face mask in the market whose effectivity in preventing COVID-19 transmission has been questioned by medical professionals.

"CopperMask" has been endorsed by showbiz celebrities. Some government officials have also appeared in public wearing this mask, or promoted the product in their social media pages.

In an advisory poster that circulated on social media on January 3, the Makati Medical Center (MMC) issued their reminder that persons wearing the "copper face mask," "face mask with valve" and "tinted face shields" will not be allowed hospital entry. The hospital clarified in a Facebook post on January 5 that it disallows "masks or respirators with exhalation valves, vents, slits or holes." The advisory no longer used "copper face mask," but retained the photo showing the exact same mask with an opening around the chin.

The Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) issued a separate advisory on January 6, saying "Masks with vents or exhalation valves are not advised because they allow the unfiltered breath to escape." On January 7, Philstar Life and UNTV published reports citing representatives of the PCP and the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases who affirmed MMC's protocol. They also clarified that while it has been proven that copper has anti-microbial properties, the effectivity of the mask still depends on the amount of copper used.

Inquirer.net published its first advertorial on January 8, titled "DOH confirms: Copper Face Mask not for medical use but helps slow down spread of COVID." The advertorial began with a reference to a "controversial" advisory from "a certain private hospital," which clearly meant the MMC. The article said the advisory convinced netizens that the copper face mask did not offer any sort of protection.

The article then quoted the DOH statement that copper masks are not medical grade, but can still act as a physical barrier to block respiratory droplets, which implied that there was "disinformation" in the hospital advisory.

The second advertorial came out on January 14, titled "CopperMask helps block coronavirus in airborne droplets in style." Clearly referring to the brand, CopperMask, the article talked about the product's "unique design that blends safety and fashion." The piece merely focused on the features and properties of the mask, without reference to the DOH statement.

Inquirer.net belatedly added the disclaimer that the two articles were paid content. The disclaimer that the mask is "not intended for medical use in hospital settings" was added even later - more than a day since the advertorials were first published. As of press time, both articles remain on the website.

But even with these disclaimers, the two PR pieces send the message that as long as one avoids hospitals, wearing the mask anywhere else is fine. This ultimately ignores the physicians' concerns that the design of the mask won't really stop a sick wearer from infecting others. The business side of most news organizations here and abroad have gone the way of "native advertising" or "branded content" as a way of sustain operations, the practice requires great discretion in its application. When the practice involves issues of public health and safety, the ethical guideline is clear. Journalistic content, including branded content, should avoid harm. The concern for public welfare and the value of doing no harm trump the commercial need to make money.

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