Covid-19 is addictive, not just for the political class but for Australia’s mainstream media.
At the beginning of the pandemic, people flocked to traditional media to see the dramatic scenes in Italy, Wuhan, fearing what would happen when COVID-19 reached our shores. It was understandable for the media to share the same fears of mainstream Australians.
Fast forward to 2021. COVID-19 in Australia has a survivability rate of over 99%, and it’s hard to justify the same fears now that we experienced at the beginning of the pandemic.
Yet our mainstream media have continued to engage in irresponsible catastrophism.
The people of New South Wales understand this too. According to new Institute of Public Affairs polling of over 1,000 NSW residents undertaken between 24-28 July, 59% of respondents believe the media have been alarmist in its reporting on the COVID-19 situation in Sydney, only 21% disagree.
And yet, the media’s hunger for clicks has driven them to become even more irresponsible and alarmist in their reporting of COVID-19.
Take for example, this article by 7 News from the 20th of July, which featured the headline “AMA President says Sydney could be locked down ‘indefinitely’ as outbreak continues” accompanying the article was an alarmist image of a gloomy Sydney harbour and CBD being swarmed from the air by giant COVID-19 cells, depicting some sort of War of the Worlds scenario.
This is completely irresponsible and causing unnecessary fear within the community. Now the media absolutely has a right to free speech, but this kind of reporting is immoral.
One of the worst culprits has been the ABC. It has given a bigger platform to its medical journalist Dr Norman Swan than any other expert in Australia.
The main problem with this is that most of the time he has been wrong in his predictions, reporting and analysis. He described the people of NSW as guinea pigs: “Residents in Greater Sydney are guinea pigs in this, to see whether or not if you can really intensify vaccination, can you bend the curve downwards?” he said. Guinea pigs? In the UK they intensified vaccine rollout to combat covid hotspots with great success. Many other countries have followed the same path.
His critique of the Greater Sydney lockdown has been much more critical than he ever was regarding the error-ridden long Victorian lockdown last year. He even took to the streets of Sydney to tweet about too many cars being on the road, even though Google mobility data showed a dramatic fall in people moving around the city.
Norman Swan also told ABC RN Breakfast that Australia is paying the price for a slow vaccine rollout due to being ”slow off the mark” in negotiating with other pharmaceutical companies to secure more vaccines for Australians.
But what was Norman Swan saying at the time the government should have supposedly been negotiating vaccine deals? In December 2020 he told the 7:30 report that there was no rush to make deals: “To be blunt, we can learn from their mistakes. By the time we get approval in a slower and more deliberate way, we will have the experience of probably millions of British people and Americans having had this vaccine.”
Now he predicts Sydney will be in lockdown until Christmas, but given his form on predictions like when he said Australia’s ICU beds will be overwhelmed by April 2020, perhaps this is cause for hope that people of NSW will be free from lockdown much earlier than Christmas.
The reason we are in this seemingly endless cycle of COVID-zero is because Australia’s politicians and unelected bureaucrats have made the political calculation to pursue it relentlessly.
But part of the blame must be borne by Australia’s media class, who in the chase for revenue, clicks and attention have absolutely terrified the Australian people into submission.
It’s the encouragement of politicians and endless fearmongering from the media that means a vaccinated mother can’t visit her daughter going through chemotherapy or healthy aunts can’t attend the funeral of their 5-month-old niece.
This polling shows that (at least in New South Wales) the public’s adoration of COVID-19 fear porn is wearing thin.
Evan Mulholland is Director of Communications at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.
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