*Media attending a press briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).
“The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news, and it’s not entirely the media’s fault. Bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news.” – Peter McWilliams.
This quote has been stuck in my head these past few weeks. As the country, led by its ordinary citizenry, have hunkered down and put in a monumental effort to get COVID-19 numbers down, yet national media continue to centre its reporting on doom and gloom. The focus seems ever present on the negative and very little celebration of the positive. At one point, we had the worst rate of infection in Europe in terms of daily COVID-19 cases per capita. Now, we are in the top 3 best daily performers consistently. Our death rate is amongst the lowest in Europe and hospitalisations are falling daily too. This is in stark contrast to many other European countries where infections are once again rising. This should serve as a clear warning to us, however, to remain vigilant as the numbers can shoot up all too easily if we are not careful. That said, let us be thankful that we’ve been able to re-open schools and look set to ease a host of other restrictions.
Disinformation has, correctly, been identified as another major problem throughout all of this. Whether than by anti-vaccine nonsense, or flat out COVID deniers, people perpetuating falsehoods that have led to people throwing caution to the wind and spreading infection are directly responsible for increasing the death rate. I am unambiguous in that belief. A key fight though, in dispelling this false information, is the extension of hope to masses. Many of those who turn to misinformation, are doing so on the mere hope that what they read online is true and with it, the pandemic will just go away. That despair and weariness after a year of lockdowns and daily figures, is understandable. Nevertheless, national broadcast and print media share a lot of blame in my opinion, for perpetuating the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that has driven normal folk into the hands of conspiracy theorists.
This was particularly prevalent two weeks ago, when the Independent ran an alarmist headline on the morning of expanded school openings. At first glance, it did look worrying. The paper reporting that thousands of school age kids had been diagnosed with the virus. But when you drilled into it, you could see that these cases represented less than 12% of all cases in the country over the 12 moths to that date. Seeing as this cohort represents roughly 26% of the population, this served to prove that kids were much less likely to contract COVID-19 than the adult population. But this was not the narrative the paper ran with. What is worse, this article was advertised as an exclusive. But two weeks previous, as the first school kids returned to classes, RTÉ had already reported similar figures in a similar manner. Not only was this not new information, but it also was not even the first time it had falsely been used to scaremonger.
Yes, media currently has an agenda, as media has always done. That agenda is to sell papers or generate clicks online to boost advertising revenue. You cannot chastise them for that. At the end of the day, all people working in news media need to be able to put bread on the table too. But this is where local media up and down the country has really excelled itself over the past year. Rather than jump on the fear bandwagon to generate clicks and sales, local press has focused on telling people’s stories and shedding the human angle of what the pandemic has meant for our communities. Bringing home the seriousness of the situation and this illness, while also showcasing the hope and perseverance of people. A great example of this was the story in this paper of Feakle’s Dun Purcell and his recovery from the virus. Rather than over-react to vaccine worries, the country should persevere with the determination we have seen in so many people reported on in the papers of local press over the past 12 months. The suspension of the Astra Zenica vaccine appears, on the face of it, a complete overreaction. It is time we took a leaf out of the British playbook, knuckle down and get the job done. Let’s get vaccinated and get back to normal. Too many of us have sacrificed too much to this point to throw that hard work away now. There is light at the end of the tunnel.