I’ve reached the point where I can’t watch or read mainstream news reports. I’ve had difficulty with them throughout the pandemic with their incessant reporting of Covid cases and deaths completely devoid of context (how many cases were serious enough to cause hospitalisations? How many deaths were ‘of’ Covid rather than ‘with’ it? How many of the deaths were excess deaths; how many people die in any given period normally?) Ignoring context, the media became intent on fostering anxiety and panic. Their reporting was not independent; in the UK at least they parroted uncritically and relentlessly the government’s position. This, in turn, was shaped by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and in particular the predictions of computer modeller Neil Ferguson. Ferguson, regularly interviewed on BBC news programmes, was, as he now admits, wrong on every occasion. Very wrong. The pandemic was nowhere near as drastic as he repeatedly said it was going to be (I’m not disputing how serious it was. It was not, however, anywhere as near as bad as he kept predicting it would be). Yet the government and the media continued to rely on his predictions as if they were fact.
All of which is the reason I reduced my watching, listening and reading of the news to a minimum. Headlines only. Early in the summer of this year, the UK government felt the need to restore some normality to society, it asked the mainstream media to reduce its reporting of Covid statistics. All media outlets immediately complied. Conservatives can never say again that the BBC in particular is biased against them; it has done their bidding throughout the pandemic.
This is not, however, the reason I am abandoning the news, giving up even on headlines. I am tired of predictions, conjecture, speculation, forecasts and extrapolation. None of these is news. They are attempts to see the future, something that we are incapable of doing. Of course we need to be aware of potential consequences of decisions or actions, our own, governments’ and society’s. But reporting those possible consequences as fact, as outcomes that are inevitable, fait accompli, like Neil Ferguson’s hopeless predictions, is not what news reporting should be about. Its job is to tell us what has happened, how, where and possibly why (analysis). That it extends itself well beyond this by determining for us what a particular development means ‘for the future’ or ‘’in the long term’ is nothing more than supposition. It also, dangerously, leads to some self-fulfilling prophecy, such as we’ve seen in the reporting of recent supply chain difficulties. That these were restricted to specific areas was not reported but the possibility that these difficulties could, possibly, maybe, result in food shortages was. Result? Panic buying and food shortages in some areas. The same happened with supposed fuel shortages. Christmas is now in danger according to the UK media.
With Covid largely off the agenda, the news media find themselves in need of something else with which to fill schedules; some alternative source of doom and gloom. The mainstream (in the UK, at least) has opted for climate change, replete with forecasts of catastrophe, destruction and extinction. Of course it’s possible that if we do not act collectively to reduce the human contribution to climate change, that these outcomes will come to pass. It’s possible but it isn’t certain to be the case. Who remembers the media reporting that by this point in the 21st century we would be living in an ice age because of climate change? (This speculation is still about and has traction in some quarters).The news is that climate change is happening. That’s it. What we might do about it is for some other source that doesn’t claim to be delivering news.
I am tired of the narrative of the day, be it #MeToo, Brexit, BLM, Covid, climate change. Tired of its promotion by the media, of the prediction and conjecture that goes along with it, but only while it attracts sufficient viewers or readers. When something more ‘newsworthy’, sensational and alarmist comes along, what was once narrative of the day is dropped. There’s a new bandwagon to jump on! This time though, I’m doing the dropping first.
Well stated. Really, one could take the pulse of the pandemic, not by the figures you cite, but by how much of the news was dominated by pandemic stories. The media and how it navigates the zeitgeist created mass hysteria, and we’ll suffer from that long after the virus becomes endemic everywhere. For example, Tom Hanks was one of the first celebrities to test positive for the virus, and many thought it was curtains for him. Government lockdowns also were brutally irrational. You can’t lock down everyone for the typical 3 year duration of a pandemic. Sooner or later it is going to spread. The result of hyping the virus also has the requisite backlash, which is why “vaccine” is a dirty word in the boonies of the United States, propagated by the religious right. The next thing is when do we stop all this stuff? I dutifully wore two masks before vaccination, but at what point does the mask become garlic over the door to keep away vampires (wow it works! no vampires have been seen in years, maybe decades!). Media loves a story they don’t have to chase. We hurt ourselves when we give way to media hype and hysteria. It is important to constantly scrutinize the data and the media does not do this.
Yes, absolutely Troy. We have been manipulated by the media throughout the pandemic. It’s been interesting to hear some politicians saying recently that they wear a mask (when they know they’re on camera) to signal that the pandemic is not yet over. They don’t say they wear one to prevent the spread of the virus! The media here is already agitating for the reinstatement of restrictions over the winter, primarily to ‘protect’ the NHS and to ease doctors’ workloads. So far the government is standing firm, saying that further restrictions are unnecessary – but for how long? They have a track record of caving in under media pressure.