Test of the fourth estate | Daily News


Role of media during the COVID-19 outbreak

Test of the fourth estate

A month is a substantial period in any community life. Thanks to the curfew imposed throughout the country, the public was confined to home with digital and electronic media for company. Media, on the other hand, was among the officially gazetted essential services. Media personnel could roam the terrain without the burden of a curfew pass.

Satisfactory performance

Did media, in general, fulfil its expected role during the pandemic? Too vague to answer straight away, though exegetic explanations might come in for some assistance. Holistically speaking, the much-cliched COVID-19 is now known as a resilient factor in weakening the global order.

Dr Dharmakeerthi Sri Ranjan, Head, Department of Mass Media, Sri Palee Campus, University of Colombo, observes media’s role on the coverage of COVID-19 pandemic as satisfactory.

“As a whole how media performed during the pandemic is satisfactory, especially in communicating the status of coronavirus as a national crisis. We are made aware of the perilous situation especially with floods of data on global death rate and other events.

Fewer politicians and more specialists given the spotlight is another encouraging aspect in local media. The subject specialists had the opportunity to air their expert opinions and the public had access to proper information on novel coronavirus.

Global sphere

However, that does not leave the media without blemish. Dr Sri Ranjan observes a certain kind of downfall in media democracy.

“Certain media institutes attempted to bring forward their propagandist ideologies by way of the coronavirus coverage. This was observed in media institutes in general as well as certain media personnel. They were seemingly acting on a certain agenda. Plus, some other media institutes exhibited a bias in coverage owing to their political affiliation,” Dr Sri Ranjan explains.

With thus weakened media democracy, the coronavirus coverage inculcated an unnecessary scare among the general public. Certain media institutions capitalised on the situation. A huge setback observed in media coverage is its failure to conduct a proper discussion on the global scale of coronavirus.

“COVID-19 has affected the socio-economic-political sphere of global politics. It has now birthed a new global order. We can observe drastic changes in the global population. That change affects countries such as Sri Lanka. But we cannot see a serious discussion of that subject area.”

Future crisis

Dr Sri Ranjan also points to the impending global food crisis, which has so far been confined to a mere topic.

“Mass Media has failed to open the platform to a discussion that could guide the mass conscience properly. Especially not only the food crisis, but we can also see how the wars in the past have shaken global politics. We can link these subjects and enter a discussion on how a food crisis emerges and, more importantly, how to face such a likelihood. For media, it is merely a topic. They are not interested in providing proper information and data on an analytical scale. That leaves general people without a clue in taking a proper decision on how to face an impending global food crisis.”

Dr Sri Ranjan stresses that Media should be able to generate constructive ideas on a frequent basis. Failure to produce constructive ideas means the media role is unsatisfactory. Media in itself, the shape of media, the attraction of media have taken precedence and prominence over its actual role. Electronic media is keen on transmitting particular messages to the community more than any other.

Pandemic highlight

According to Dr Tudor Weerasinghe, Board Member of Sri Lanka Press Council, both national and international media have taken COVID-19 as the only highlight, forgetting everything else. COVID-19 has gained attention, though it has many predecessors and more successors to come. “The coverage is such that at times we wonder if all this publicity is really necessary. The extent of the coverage also makes us wonder if awareness is a genuine purpose. The public is made to scare under the pretext of making awareness. Media, especially on the global scale, seems organisational in this context. Media virus seems to be far more dangerous than the coronavirus.”

Dr Weerasinghe adds, nevertheless, that awareness is necessary. However, the boundaries need to be respected, which is not the case right at the moment. Under the guise of coronavirus awareness, the media seem to be fulfilling certain objectives.

In any society, under any circumstances – either ordinary or extraordinary – media has a primary role: inform. It is tasked with the job of informing what is happening in society.

“However, certain media goes a step beyond. They manipulate the existing phenomenon to suit their whims and fancies. They choose the information for the public. For instance, coronavirus has been given unnecessary publicity. Suppose it’s considered a pandemic. But the world has experienced worse virus outbreaks. Did the media play this prominent? At least we don’t remember. No suspicious behaviour such as this was observed before.”

Manipulative tendency

But now the situation is quite different. More ideological and propagandist information is available than scientific information. The manipulative tendency is quite visible in the information. SARS virus has generated a similar effect more or less. Countries such as South Korea were affected. There is a history to these viruses.

Whether these viruses are natural or artificial is another global argument. Opinions are entertained as to whether these viruses emerged to fulfil the need for a bioweapon.

“The role of media should be discussed against these aspects: coronavirus genesis, its expansion and the visible as well as invisible motifs. No single opinion is available on these aspects. Media offers the platform for contradictory opinions, which is understandable given the holistic picture.”

The novel coronavirus is still being studied in various perspectives. Dr Weerasinghe cites Nature Medicine, a notable magazine published in the US. The 2015 edition of the magazine reveals a study done by the University of North Carolina. The revelation indicates that the virus was possibly manmade to eliminate a considerable portion of mankind,

“Media forces us to believe that this virus originated in Wuhan. But in reality, this virus outbreak could be a struggle to reformat or restructure the global order. Globally speaking, there is a financial restructuring in the making. The foundation required for such a restructuring is gradually unfolding. This virus, in this respect, does not seem coincidental. It looks more organised. It is a result of an organised effort. Global media, knowingly or unknowingly, caters to its requirement.”

Sri Lankan media structure is heavily influenced by the West. It is fed by the ilk of the UK and the US, Dr Weerasinghe notes.

Solutions to most global issues were sought by way of World Wars. World War I and II were the offshoot of such attempts. The novel coronavirus could be the newest model of the solution instead of a physical war. Media, in such a backdrop, could simply be a cat’s paw to attain certain ulterior motives of the superpowers that be.

Next: Media immunity during the COVID-19 outbreak

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