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Part 3: the media in crisis situations

To bring you up to date, we’re discussing the world’s response to Coronavirus vs the response to the climate emergency. In the previous two posts we discussed the imminent fear of death (Part 1) and how ‘current’ each of the threats were (Part 2). Now for my favourite part in the debate, Part 3: The Media.

“While the news doesn’t necessarily tell us what to think, it tells us what to think about.”

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, The Conversation

3. Media coverage

The media has no doubt contributed to the mass hysteria and worldwide panic surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Every morning I’m greeted by a talkshow host from ‘Sunrise’ or ‘Today’ warning me with stern, wide eyes that some ‘unnamed expert’ has predicted deaths in Australia could reach the millions!

“Research has consistently shown that when issues receive extensive media coverage and are prominent in the news agenda, they also come to be seen as more important by members of the public.” This quote was taken from an article in The Conversation, which addresses this same topic of media-generated fear. The author tracked specific words used in English-language newspapers around the world and found that out of the >9,000 stories that mentioned coronavirus, 1,066 mentioned “fear” or related words, including “afraid”, and 50 articles used the phrase “killer virus”.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is unmask_meme-1.jpg
Fred un-masking the real monster behind COVID-19 – the media. Sourc: me.

Let’s put COVID-19 into perspective by comparing it to the deaths caused annually by seasonal influenza. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that seasonal influenza kills 290,000 to 650,000 people, annually. Globally, COVID-19 deaths have just surpassed 40,500 (as of 01/04/2020). Despite Influenza causing a significantly larger number of deaths, only 488 articles published this year mentioned seasonal influenza without mention of COVID-19. Of these, less than 10% mentioned “fear” or similar phrases.

Let’s use Ebola as another example of a worldwide pandemic. Comparing English-language print news published during the Ebola pandemic in 2018, to that released in 2020 for the coronavirus outbreak, coronavirus was mentioned 23x more in it’s first month.

Chart comparing media coverage of Ebola pandemic, 2018 vs. Coronvirus outbreak, 2020 in English-language print news. Taken from Times Magazine.

It is difficult to compare coronavirus to previous pandemics; within just a few months coronavirus has spread across the globe, with new countries reporting cases every 24h. There are a number of factors explaining why coronavirus has recieved such intense and unprecedented media attention. One could even be that this pandemic has primarily effected the Western world, whereas previous pandemics have primarily affected third-world nations e.g. Ebola in Africa. Coronavirus is indeed a danger, but the media coverage we’ve seen has undoubtedly caused unecessarily heightened worldwide hysteria.

Climate Change and The Media

In comparison, the media coverage of the climate emergency has been almost non-existent. This is mainly due to the stronghold (1) Murdoch’s News Corp accounts have over the press and (2) the coal and gas sector have over our major governing parties.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia accounts for 59% of Australia’s newspaper sales. News Corp also own popular TV networks such as Sky News, Foxtel and Fox Sports Australia. These media networks incessantly spout climate change denial, usually in ways that are illogical, insensitive and unsupported. For example, during Australia’s devastating 2019/2020 bushfire season, whilst thousands of people were watching their homes, towns and communities turned to ash, the Herald Sun‘s front page read: “global warming is good for you”. And no, we’re not kidding.

Examples of several climate denial articles published in the Herald Sun newspaper this year.

Andrew Bolt (infamous climate denier and right-wing writer) recently wrote another article in the Herlad Sun titled ‘warming scare distracted us from this real crisis‘. The first paragraph begins with the line: “This virus shows us what a real crisis looks like, compared to a fake one.” [The fake one being climate change]. At this point I almost stopped reading because my blood was boiling, but I pushed through, and there was more. Much more. The next line read: “There’s no proof that global warming has killed anyone – indeed, food crops have got bigger — but the coronavirus has killed 14,000 people already.” There is so much wrong with this sentence that I would need a whole blog post just to pick it apart.

I would like Mr Bolt to venture out of his right-wing media outlets and read real scientific reports such as the Health and Climate Change in Australia and the Asia Pacific Region released by Monash University, or the WHO COP24 2018 report, on climate change and health. He could also read Part 1 of this thread to learn about the clear links between climate change and death.

In these times of fear, fake news and uncertainty it is crucial that people understand which sources of information they can trust.

Come back next week for Part 4: The Economy!


Published by busybeebella

An energetic and enthusiastic young writing passionate about scientific communication.

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