Who’s Spreading Panic?

PAT PILCHER calls bullshit on the tabloid media pundits spreading fear and misinformation about the Government’s response to Covid-19.

A media pundit at work

Today on Newstalk ZB host Kerre McIvor took exception to the Government’s plans to combat a second wave of Covid-19 by stating that “… it is reprehensible that the country is being kept in a state of fear over community transmission – that is damaging not only the economy but people’s wellbeing.”

Dedicated followers of media know better than to digest the inflammatory punditry coming from tabloid commentators who will do anything to boost their ratings. Sadly, the general public seems unaware of the disparity or to even know the difference between opinion and reportage.

I’ve covered this kind of toxic punditry before for Witchdoctor, but it continues to rear its ugly head, and I’m calling bullshit on it.

Which media outlets can we trust for the hard facts?

If anyone is peddling fear, it’s McIvor and other radio jocks who seek to foister their opinions masquerading on facts on a passive public.

We recently took my father-in-law out for dinner for his birthday. Wellington was doing its usual Friday night thing. It was awash with office workers at the many bars and cafes scattered around town. All told, it was a typical Friday night. I say typical, but the reality is that it was quite extraordinary. Ask anyone across the Tasman. Ask those in Victoria – colloquially known as “Sicktoria” – who are in full lockdown with Covid-19 cases again awash over their state.

Listening to McIvor, much of her rant stemmed from a caller saying he fears he could die of Covid-19. She could have asked a virologist but chose to rant about isolating arrivals at our border. She said modelled data (sourced from where she never says), shows that because of these hiccups there should be at least four infectious people in the community. Because of this, she reasons we should have community transmission.

This doesn’t look like the Government using fear. It sounds more like shit-stirring to boost ratings. And guess what? Community transmission hasn’t happened.

Humans aren’t especially good at determining the facts of the matter

McIvor ignores the huge lengths the government went to fix the quarantine issues. That we’re enjoying a lifestyle the envy of countries world over also seems to have eluded her. Like me, Kiwis can go out to dinner. But hey, why let the facts get in the way of ratings?

From the get-go, the Government ignored the whining of the business sector. They talked up doom and gloom for New Zealand businesses and whined for the border to open. There’s no denying that some industries got hit hard, or that some businesses will fail. The reality is that while businesses fallout is likely, the economy will recover. But dead people stay dead, and they don’t spend money.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad the Government chose to listen to scientists instead of radio jocks with opinions, many of whom were pushing their own agendas and to hell with the consequences. Because of the Government’s action, New Zealand has eliminated the community transmission of Covid-19 altogether. Now the only cases are those caught in quarantine at our border where they get isolated.

Opinion, fear and hype

Instead of looking at facts and researching, McIvor whipped up hype and panic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the media fulfilling their role as the 4th Estate. They should always hold the Government to account. My beef is that some media outlets are doing so by ignoring fact and reason. And many are spraying ill-informed opinions at audiences with scant care of consequences.

Could it be that instead of trying to stir up panic, the Government was, in fact, doing the very opposite? I’d argue that by keeping us informed (with daily briefings), panic levels got reduced. In the absence of facts, rumours can start to swirl. I could be wrong, but based on what I observed, the Government has done an excellent job. I don’t know about you, but I’m far less anxious because of it.

McIvor’s rant had heaps of hype. “We have been told that bodies will stack up in the streets,” she railed.

I don’t ever recall the Government ever saying this. Newstalk ZB seems to be reporting it with ghoulish delight.

While the Government shared worst case projected fatalities,  they weren’t peddling fear. They wanted to ensure the significance of Covid-19 was something the public understood. Again, an informed public is one that is more likely to behave like the New Zealand public did, and do the right thing.

At a time like this, we need sensible, factual info

The sad thing is that McIvor isn’t the first to claim the Government is using fear. Most of us are smart enough to see these claims for the nonsensical bullshit that they are. Media outlets should know better and take seriously their responsibilities to disseminate information, not soft-boiled bollocks.

The media may be the 4th Estate, but I’d urge you, the public – our 5th Estate – to hold the press to account. Vote with your mouse and TV remotes. Steer clear from sites peddling sensationalist alarmist nonsense. If enough of us do this, the click-through advertising of these media outlets should tank. They’ll have to rethink their low-rent journalism. We need to demand fact-based reporting. This is well overdue.

 

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