There is life beyond the Covid bubble
Reflect on some of these headlines: Myanmar coup sparks massive street rallies; Flood kills at least seven after glacier burst in India; Gay men sent back to Chechnya are in ‘mortal danger’; Trump’s campaign to overturn election cost taxpayer $500m; Fears rise for three climbers missing on K2; Yazidis bury 104 victims of 2014 Islamic state massacre; Covid deaths of Yanomami children fuel fears for indigenous groups; Risk of eternal lockdown; Hundreds of academics investigated over weapons links to China; Draghi moves closer to forming Italian government; millions spent on ‘coaching’ NHS staff for death inquests. Had you only watched television news in the UK, it is unlikely you would know about the news behind any of those headlines, bar the first two.
Watching either the BBC or the ITV evening news over the last weeks and months you could be forgiven for believing that the entire world had been reduced not only to a series of mainly dire UK Covid statistics, but to a succession of miserable personal stories more suited to those ‘real life story’ magazines which churn out tales of woe, misery and tragedy, interspersed with real-life, fairy-tale romance. Unfortunately the fairy-tale romance element is completely lacking in the current news feeds. Their reports seem to focus almost entirely on the numbers of Covid cases and Covid deaths, on the personal misery and despair of families bereaved or possibly about to be bereaved by coronavirus, or else on weary, stressed, overworked nurses and doctors on Covid wards; plus, of course, further statistics on the UK vaccine roll-out programme. Is this really necessary? Will all this propaganda reach those who are not taking this illness seriously or will it simply add to the distress, fear and anxiety of the majority who are, it would appear, already anxious, fearful and distressed?
The BBC has often been accused of being anti-government. Currently it is hard to see it as being anything other than a puppet of the government and possibly even of the NHS; briefed to present the government’s and government scientists’ line on all things Covid. ITV is little different. Whatever happened to unbiased worldwide news? In 30-minute news programmes we are subjected to 25 minutes of UK Coronavirus-related news, whilst in ‘the day’s other news’ we are offered pictures of huge new vaccine centres (small ray of hope?), items related to the increase in unemployment (caused by lock-down) or, currently, clips of children tobogganing down snow-covered open spaces accompanied by comments about police cautioning or even fining those who have the temerity to have snowball fights and so ignoring social distancing. During the American elections some time was, to be fair, given to issues of American politics, but other international news? So very little as would leave those who only get their news from television seriously ill-informed.
The more one thinks about this, the odder it seems. It is not long since we finally left the EU, supposedly to strike out as a global-trading nation once again; and yet here we are with our leaders seriously considering shutting us all up in fortress Britain with enforced quarantine for those entering the country (a situation which would have appeared laughably unbelievable a year ago) and our only news appears to be parochial in the extreme. To find out what is happening out there in the big wide world you need to find other sources. The Today programme on Radio 4 used to be a fairly reliable source of information. The other week the last 4 minutes or so (which felt interminable) of two consecutive programmes were devoted to actor Rory Kinnear ‘who lost his sister to the virus’ reading out a list of names of ‘your loved ones’. I am really sorry for those who have lost loved ones to the virus. I am equally sorry for anyone who has lost loved ones to cancer over the last year, or to strokes, heart attacks or suicide, but reading their names out to me on the radio is meaningless; literally, utterly meaningless. You might as well read out the telephone directory. Unless you are a friend or relative, those names cannot possibly mean anything.
If the statistics can be relied upon and over 100,000 people have died of Covid 19 (and not just within 28 days of a positive test, having died of something else), this still represents only 0.149% of the population. If you believe the statistics have under-reported Covid-19 deaths and believe that maybe closer to 120,000 have died, we are still talking about 0.179% of the population. Mortality rates in historic pandemics have been much higher: 30-45% died in this country during the Black Death; some 15-20% of the population of London died in the 1665 Plague and some 3% of the UK population died in the Spanish Flu pandemic after the First World War. Listening to the UK television news it would be easy to believe that the country had never suffered anything comparable to the coronavirus pandemic. This reporting is unhelpful, even damaging. It lacks any sort of perspective or any sense of proportion.
Those who are watching TV news are likely to be those who have already had all their perceptions skewed by the government warnings and fear-mongering; those who are already scared. Clive Myrie repeating ‘We are all scared’ over pictures of ITU wards, morgues and graves is alarmist propaganda. It is not news. If we are going to do nothing but focus on ‘the virus’ (which I would not advocate) we need balancing statistics like how many people were discharged from hospital having recovered or how many came out of ITU having received effective treatment. Statistics on the number given ‘the jab’ are not actually that encouraging either when at the same time we are still subjected to warnings about how far away we are from a return to normality and suggestions that the AstraZeneca jab may not protect against the South African strain of the virus.
It is easy to be critical of the way the pandemic has been handled. It is easy, if we are not in charge, to say, with the benefit of hindsight, that this or that should have been done. My own views on the damage done by lock-down, rather than the coronavirus itself, are a matter of record in the Shaw Sheet, but it is clear that the immediately international nature of the modern world, the interconnectivity and the power of social media have all played a part in the way countries around the world have dealt in very similar autocratic ways with this latest ‘plague’. What our broadcast media should not be doing at this stage is retreating into dubious statistics and sob stories to increase the fear when what is required is a little rationality and sense of proportion. To counteract the inward-looking and closed-down nature of the world we are all inhabiting, not only should the broadcast media be looking outward and increasing our engagement with the rest of the world, but perhaps we as individuals should be actively looking for other sources of news.
Whether or not we lean to the right or to the left, it is perhaps incumbent on all of us to seek out news and opinions and to be open to what is going on around the world. The coronavirus owes its success to the global nature of our contemporary world; to the interconnectivity, the travel and the international nature of our 21st century lives. It should therefore be of importance to all of us that we are aware of what is happening around the globe, not just in our own small corner of it. There are endless sources of information out there these days. Thanks to the internet, there are a variety of sources of news and almost no limit to the number of articles to be read on any topic. At a time when the world is ‘smaller’ than ever we would be foolish to allow our own horizons to be shut down by simply taking the easy route and absorbing what the BBC and ITV news choose to prioritise. Subscribe to any of the old ‘dailies’ if you can make the time each day; read them online if you prefer; get weeklies such as The Week, The Economist, The Spectator if daily is too much; read online magazines such as Spiked, UnHerd, the Shaw Sheet or the many others, if you would like a different emphasis on world events. Only Connect has today joined those online magazines and will attempt to lift the news from the parochial (which of course has its place) to the global as we head (eventually) into a post-pandemic world facing issues which will affect all of us.