How can the press stop the virus hysteria regarding COVID-19? This is a question I ask myself every single morning as I survey the news online and also look at the newspaper stand when I go for my first morning coffee.
As the days pass, I become gloomier and gloomier. The chances of a global pandemic are becoming more likely as mentioned by Dr. Jonathan Quick who is a world-renowned expert on epidemics and pandemics.
We may not be able to stop this pandemic.
But each and every one of us has a duty to keep informed and educate ourselves on what scientists and researchers tell us and advise us. We have to follow their advice.
The problem with news is that fake news is totally free but many well established and respected newspapers are now using a digital paywall. You have to pay to get the news. Many people cannot afford that.
One remarkable exception is The Guardian.
How can the press and media help stop this virus hysteria? I will not even dare to write about social media because that is like a monster out of control. The vague promises made by Mark Zuckerberg are so disheartening that I will not even mention them. Pathetic is a word that springs to mind.
Suffice it to say that the Facebook tentacles reach 25% of the world’s population as mentioned in my article on Medium here.
Facebook Ads Have Ruined American Democracy
Social media platforms are a risk for democracy
Here are 3 examples where the press has failed in its obligation to give us the facts and stop scaring us. Scaremongering must never be a weapon editors should use.
Many editors do but their publications usually are in the trash category.
1. Stop exaggerating.
I saw one headline in a newspaper here in Italy last week which made my blood boil. This one said:-
“The North Is In Quarantine.”
The quarantine or areas in lockdown is a group of 10 towns and villages which have a total population of 50,000. So, the area is very small and restricted.
To call it The North is a gross exaggeration. Why? Because we are talking here of 3 provinces (Lombardia, Veneto and Emilia Romagna) in northern Italy which have restricted some movement, closed schools and canceled some public events. Their population comes to a total of 19 million people.
This headline is fiction.
But when I went online and checked it, the headlines were totally different. Why? Maybe to increase their sales of the paper edition which are in free fall?
2. Stop scaremongering.
The second headline was in a very well known newspaper in the Rome area. It read:-
“Contagion Alarm At The Gates of Rome.”
ONE tourist had tested positive at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport (gates of Rome). But the headline conjures up images of invading armies of infected people rushing towards the center of Italy’s capital (population of almost 3 million).
Now, ONE infected person at the airport is highly unlikely to spread infection among the masses. When the truth is known, we will probably discover that contagion was already doing the rounds as far back as last October 2019, as the WHO has suggested.
3. Catchy headlines?
Look at all the journalist training sites and they will have chapters on how to write a great headline. Such words as
The last one makes me smile wryly.
Yes, the tone should match the tone of the story so, in the examples above, we have seen that they want to scare, terrify, create unnecessary alarm and misinform.
But, for now, we just need bald facts, suggested precautions and practical advice. Nothing more, nothing less. Let’s leave the scare tactics to the trolls on the Internet. God knows there are enough of them. Why feed them with new material?
Here is a modest proposal. Why cannot all the major newspapers of the world step forward and pull down their digital paywalls during this crisis in a joint effort to help us defeat misinformation and fake news?
- The Washington Post
- The New York Times
- Financial Times
- The Times
- The Daily Telegraph
Now, if that were to happen, we would be well on the way to defeating the COVID-19 virus hysteria. That would be a great step forward.