The Covid-19 pandemic is a disastrous global crisis for several reasons. It is an international health crisis, of course, an economic crisis; it is also a media crisis, not helped by the irresponsibility of the press and social media channels.
It’s clear the coronavirus is a deadly disease and serious measures must be implemented to prevent its spread, yet there is an ocean of mis-information propagated by individuals and organisations wishing to distort and discredit official scientific data.
At times of national emergency, like the coronavirus pandemic, people turn to news and media channels for up-to-date accurate information on the nature of the crises and our government’s response; yet, what they often get in return is serious disinformation, conspiracy theories, wishful thinking, or basic “fake news”.
It’s fair to say that during a national and global crisis, such as the one we are now experiencing, a free and accountable press is more important than ever. We need our press to provide the kind of information that we can rely on to make informed choices, choices that can affect lives and livelihoods. But in some quarters this freedom of the press sentiment is stretched to its very limits.
Throughout the Covid outbreak there have been reports of vaccines on the horizon or miracle cures, statistics and analysis on the disease have been routinely fudged, and conspiracy theories are rampant, everything from the the origin of the outbreak to the rollout of dystopian 5G technology. Embellishing the news like this for the sake of audience engagement is wholly unethical and undesirable, even more so in times of crisis.
This irresponsible news coverage has been allowed to happen. The industry controlled press complaints handler has done nothing to stem the tide of radically embellished news articles or slanderous propaganda. Media news outlets such as The Daily Mail have continued to publish news with improper facts and disinformation.
The newspaper’s coverage of the Covid pandemic is not the only area in which articles are published with improper research and low ethical standards. In recent months The Daily Mail issued apology to Sir James Dyson and his wife Lady Diedre Dyson for the misreporting of a liable case against them. The Dyson’s won their liability case against the newspaper and paid the money they received to charity.
The IPSO has a responsibility to listen to independent fact checkers, like FullFact, and act on their advice. This has not happened nearly enough in recent times. In a perfect world news media outlets would only report factual evidence in a clear and impartial manner, the fact that it doesn’t is to be expected. This then lays the blame firmly at the feet of governing bodies like the IPSO, to ensure that the news we read is reliable and honest.
We now live in a confusing world of mixed messages from a variety of online sources where it is more difficult than ever to discern what is credible and reliable and what is fake. What is needed is more responsible news media and more competent governing bodies.