Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer leaves Lambeth Palace following a press conference in London, Britain

19-10-2020SIMON DAWSON

I touched upon the news and media coverage of Covid-19 in a column of mine a short time ago. What I really meant of course was the coverage in the British or English language press; however Spanish, German and friends of other nationalities knowing what I do - have not been slow in voicing an opinion of how their media outlets have been reporting the pandemic. Shall we say that nobody who has approached me on the subject has had a good word to say about how it is being reported in their own national or regional news media, which perhaps shouldn’t surprise anyone I suppose? The truth is nobody ever appreciates the way that bad news is relayed to them. And with the current climate of widespread confusion infused with a certain amount of alarm, it is perhaps hardly surprising that the bearers of bad tidings are being so roundly criticised by the public. But, is there more to it that just that?

Reporting the pandemic
Although, as I have just mentioned other countries in this regard, I intend to concentrate today’s Sunday Essay on the way that the British media has reported the pandemic. This from its first proper manifestation in early March, right up until now, whereupon Britain is bracing itself for a number of local and regional lockdowns as the so called ‘2nd Spike’ becomes apparent. Perhaps hardly surprisingly, in the first days of a British lockdown the media took an almost passive role of passing on governmental guidance via daily live and exhaustive coverage of the pandemic press conferences at No 10 Downing Street. But even then it was becoming apparent that mixed messages were being relayed, and it is in the nature of the media ‘beast’ that after a while these messages were being translated to mean a number of different things. Mostly though, the British media as a whole has been accused by many of trying to frighten the Great British public on a number of levels - and perhaps even worse, they were accused by many readers, viewers and listeners, of going out-of-their-way sow unfounded fears in the minds of the people. However, given the death toll at that time i.e. late March and April - I would have thought that people would have every right to be fearful.

Is the press actually enjoying the crisis?
I also have to say that more than one person has said to me regarding the British reporting of Covid-19 - something along the lines of - “It’s as if some news reporters are actually enjoying the fear that their news reports are causing in people.” And in all honesty, there was a time when I believe that journalistic shroud waving was the order of the day, and it still emerges every now and again even at this stage. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how radio and television react to pandemic news stories as opposed to the printed press. Newspapers, can be shrill in the extreme on occasions, yet many find space to run balanced and informative feature stories that can look deeper than shrieking front page headlines. Once again, a common view amongst people who speak to me is that they are confused by the plethora of information and can’t work out what is true and what is not. It also has to be said that the truth might not be such a compelling front page splash headline and can find itself tucked away on page eleven. Meanwhile, our old friend the unchecked yet exciting conspiracy theory, has a clear run on the front page. People will complain that articles printed in newspapers on the same day, can and often do - contradict each other leading to confusion, even though these pieces are written by properly qualified medical and scientific professionals. At one time, perhaps we all naively believed that “following the science” would be an easy option; but - we soon found out that the science can differ from scientist to scientist.

Be careful of Covid-19 as entertainment
When talking about the reporting of the virus in the context of party politics, I think we all have to be very careful. In some ways, I suspect the Sir Keir Starmer in his quieter moments will breathe a sigh of relief that he isn’t Prime Minister at the moment. As come on, let’s face it - who would choose to be PM during this almost unmanageable crisis? Nevertheless, for anyone who has ears to listen and eyes to see - it is quite obvious that the Labour Party is mainly interested in embarrassing an inept Tory government than putting forward any positively different plans itself. The attitude of both the two big parties to the pandemic and all its works - other than in crude points scoring is pretty obvious to all and - is I believe, mostly being reported evenly handedly in the British printed press. The negative side of this political party cynicism, is the fact that the British public appear to mistrust politicians ever more than they do journalists. One of the elements of the current crisis that most disturbs me, is the growth of television and radio features that arrange themselves in such a way as to be almost described thus - ‘Covid-19 as entertainment.’ What I’m getting at, is the rather worrying bloodsport of naming-and-shaming socio-economic groupings in the regions of British society. The North v The South - partial lockdown or no lockdown at all; you know the sort of thing? It’s as if British people are being encouraged to ‘turn’ on each other and encouraged on the sidelines by the mass media.

Stop it Piers!
On a lighter note, I was a sent a note from a Bulletin reader that outlined his perception of the media coverage of coronavirus - it read - “BBC = Biased - ITV = Frivolous - Sky News = Tedious” Well, it made me laugh anyway. Finally, I would like to share my one major complaint when it comes to the reporting of Covid-19. Do you think it possible when ‘presenters’ interrogate government ministers - that when the one-sided interview comes to an end, I’d really like to know what the cabinet minister thinks has to say about the current crisis and what he or she is going to do about it; not just to be left with what Good Morning Britain’s combative front man, Pier’s Morgan thinks about any given subject. A friend said to me that Mr Morgan is only following in the footsteps of those great inquisitors - Today’s, John Humphrys and Newsnight’s, Jeremy Paxman. I disagree with him, both men were tough interviewers, but - unlike Piers Morgan, I didn’t actually know what their personal view was on the subject under discussion at the end of any interview; that was never in their job description.

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