Panic is the other contagious disease we’re currently battling

Can COVID-19 force the media revolution we need?

Last friday, I and many thousands of UK business owners, self-employed workers and unemployed workers eagerly tuned into the 5pm news, hoping to catch a vital update on whether the government would be offering us the essential aid that we need to survive the coming 3 months. What followed was an ‘unprecedented’ broadcast (I’m going to take a shot every time Rishi Sunak says this word from now on) promising support.

Why did this question even get asked?

Plato was right when he said “those who tell stories rule society”, so maybe we need to be more critical of the stories we’re told, who’s telling them and what their ulterior motives might be.

So what are some examples of the media getting it wrong right now?

In more niche publications, and on online platforms, flat out untruths are rife. These are trivially wrong so I will leave their addressal to my section on how we remedy this. Looking at murkier waters, in the case of the USA large media conglomorates essentially magnified the incorrect message from the Trump administration that everything was a hoax (causing the opposite of panic). This is not as patently wrong as printing their own falsehoods, but obviously lacks journalistic integrity to not include a much needed rebuttal. In the UK, there are two really key examples I’m seeing which, upon close inspection do suggest that the profit motive is getting in the way of good journalism. Firstly, the reporting around the rate at which the virus is spreading vs the actions we’re taking. Secondly, the reporting around the death toll.

‘Biggest daily increase in cases’ — read: The virus is spreading uncontrollably and it keeps getting worse!

A good example of such reporting, though it’s not hard to find

‘X thousand dead and counting’ — read: This virus is a killing machine, none shall be spared.

I particularly enjoy the use of the quote ‘HALF the population may have caught the killer bug’, despite the fact that this study is supposed to make the point that it’s NOT that dangerous a virus!

Is there hope that we can change our media?

In the past we have been unable to come up with a regulatory framework that can remove this perverse incentive and ensure that media is both a useful tool for society and a functioning check and balance on power. Facebook has continually dodged all requests to reign in illicit advertising or content (as this obviously contravenes their profit motive). In the UK, we literally held an inquiry (the Leveson inquiry) that produced recommendations including the creation of a independent watchdog. This has since been ignored by the conservative governments which have held power since 2012 .

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” — Albert Einstein

Co-founder of Stasher and Treepoints, co-host of The Morality Of Everyday Things.

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