Coronavirus: The role of the press
In any free society, the press’ role is to inform, not to tell people what to think. However, for decades, media companies found a gold mine in creating polemic on television and radio and decided to create talk shows where journalists and so-called experts opine – not inform – about the news of the day.
Parallel to finding talk shows as a gold mine to attract viewers, the press also found another way to make money by selling ad space: creating hysteria. The more alarm, the more viewers, and the more viewers the more money media companies make in ads.
The coronavirus is the latest example of media-created hysteria. CNN, a repeating offender in creating panic and alarm, declared the virus a pandemic even before health authorities did in an official fashion. But they still call themselves “the most trusted name in news”. Both in Spanish and English – and since yesterday in Portuguese – CNN has made a killing anytime news can be explored for growing ratings and selling ad space; most of it, ironically, paid for by pharmaceutical companies.
Instead of helping health authorities in an effort to inform audiences and keeping people calm, the media spread unconfirmed rumours. As a result of media disinformation, more people have become infected and will develop symptoms in the next few days.
Media disinformation caused governments to make decisions that do not favor stopping the contagion. As people get more and more hysterical about the coronavirus, governments feel more pressured to do something. For example, closing schools and sending students home.
Unfortunately, this measure will only worsen the problem, since children and teens will spend more time near parents and grandparents, the two groups who are more vulnerable to getting sick and perhaps, depending on their overall health, die as a consequence of getting infected.
Although it is thought that not having people gather in public places to avoid contagion is a good idea, the truth is that it is much worse to have families locked in their houses where young people may be infected and not show it, while transmitting the virus to parents and the elderly.
As the streets of major cities in Europe are deserted, homes are now certain places for contamination. In this scenario, the elderly who get infected will certainly die and older adults will surely get the virus. Isolating people in homes will only guarantee that those who are more at risk will have a greater chance of getting sick.
The media’s poor news coverage during disastrous times prevents people from thinking critically, since all they read, listen to and watch are messages that tell them how afraid they ought to be, instead of learning how to prepare or deal with present and future emergencies.
In times when pandemics are not an issue, the media never report on how well-prepared countries are to face an emergency such as the coronavirus or whether governments have resources available to deal with it. No reports are produced about existing infrastructure in hospitals, for example, to receive patients and treat them adequately.
Instead, mainstream media tell you all day long that people, including illegal aliens, have the right to have free everything, even though a free healthcare system is the least effective and the least efficient because of the lack of resources to fund it and the large number of people who depend on it.
It is only when emergencies happen that television networks and cable news programs interview “experts” about contingency plans, how many hospital beds exist, what security protocols exist, what places should be declared high-risk areas, if there are ICU beds for patients in serious conditions, whether ventilation favours the spread or not, the needs of a patient with chronic diseases, whether there are medical supplies or not, etc.
More alarming than all of this is that the mainstream media never care about creating consciousness about the need to be self-sufficient and prepared. They teach people to be reactive, not proactive.
As problems arise, wrong decisions are made – given the emergency – instead of adopting solutions to situations that may happen. Rather than alarming the audience, the media should raise awareness about whether a better overall system response could be designed. The answer is obviously yes.
When it comes to dealing with contagion, there are times when it may be unavoidable to get sick, especially at first, when we think that the coronavirus would be much less serious, but that is not a reason for health authorities to delay actions that may prevent widespread contagion. It is also not a reason for mainstream media to speculate about it 24/7 and to create panic in the population.
Although it is true that the world health system is unprepared to face pandemics and that such a lack of preparedness is lethal, the press has not played well their instrumental role in informing society truthfully. Instead, the media have intentionally added politics to the issue, at the expense of public health.