The Coronavirus and the Media Organism: Infection, Transmission, Sensation

Matthew Moynihan shows how the Coronavirus has infected the mass media and how this live host is incubating dirty journalism.

Credit: Der Spiegel

The most resounding media coverage of 2020 to date has been the rapid spread of the novel Coronavirus, more recently named CO-VID19 by the World Health Organisation. The media has been contaminated from the start. Infected by the potential for sensation, greater clicks and increased ad revenue, certain elements of the media have begun a rapid descent into dirty journalism. The Coronavirus has revealed some of the worst professional impulses of the journalistic community. By way of example, Sky News has named individuals who had the disease publicly without their consent, naming them “superspreaders” and Der Spiegel ran a cover on the Coronavirus entitled “Made in China”. For me a story must pass this following acid test to be newsworthy: 1) Is the knowledge put forward in the article beneficial to the citizenry and 2) will it help this citizenry to hold individuals or entities to account?

Credit: BBC/WHO

I don’t dispute that the Coronavirus meets these criteria. It is imperative that citizens are informed about a disease that is creeping towards becoming a pandemic and even more crucial they can hold health authorities and the State to account to ensure the disease is contained.

What doesn’t benefit the public, however, is the demonisation of individuals who have the illness and the publishing of their identity. What doesn’t benefit the public is the inherent xenophobia put forward by many arms of the mainstream media. What doesn’t benefit the public is the mass hysteria. Coronavirus is indeed deadly, but to weather a public health storm we must remain calm. Many are hospitalised with this  virus and often require ICU beds and respirators. Our collective focus must move from the blame game to ensuring the state can weather the public health storm.

Don’t look to your local newspaper for advice – look at the Dept. of Health’s website for guidelines and those of the World Health Organisation. Below is the medical criteria for the virus now affecting the media organism that we can apply to know when to discount an article as sensationalist fodder.

Signs and Symptoms:

● Revealing the identity of an individual infected with CO-VID19 without their consent.

● Shades of xenophobia.

● The information does not inform citizens in a way that can help them protect themselves.

● Dramatic headlines that don’t match the contents.

● Tabloids being taken seriously.

Transmission:

● Social Media.

● Paid for ad space.

● Anecdotal evidence not backed up and further spread by the public.

● General ignorance.

Diagnosis:

● Refer to signs and symptoms.

● Refer to the above acid test for newsworthiness.

● If the article or new piece meets more than one symptom a positive diagnosis of “news to disregard” can be confirmed.

Prevention:

● Boycott news organisations who use the Coronavirus to dog whistle. With a lack of clicks the virus will lose its active host and gradually die out.

● Inform yourself.

● Inform your friends.

Treatment:

● Avoid tabloids. This limits the risk of repeated exposure to large viral loads.

● Report cases of the media virus to the Irish Press Council.

● Self-quarantine from disreputable news sources.

As consumers of media, once we are aware of the above the prognosis is good. The Coronavirus is dangerous, but xenophobia and disinformation propagated by the media is equally, if not more dangerous. Wash your hands of it and make sure to use the “x” function as often as possible. The media is responsible for the production of dirty journalism, you are responsible for its transmission.

Like the Coronavirus itself , in the absence of live hosts, sensationalist reporting will die away. The choice is lies in your hands.