Hysteria and scare-mongering or pandemic awareness creation? The jury is still out on the role of the media, especially the electronic media’s coverage of the swine flu outbreak.
Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of IBN 18 Network, said he can’t understand the criticism about the hype. “It is a big story, so why the hype word? But now we are looking beyond the statistics. We focused on medical opinion. Why don’t you mention the story we did on survivors?”
Dr Sunil Mehra, a leading Delhi paediatrician, said that after doing a good job of bringing the crisis to light, the media went into overdrive. “H1N1 is being talked about as the end of the world. Where is the media’s sense of balance?”
A very worried Union government issued on Friday an advisory for media coverage of the outbreak. New channels were asked to show restrain and to not show or identify patients as it may create problems for them.
NDTV’s managing editor Sonia Verma Singh said it was the media’s constant focus that got the government to bring private hospitals into the picture.
“In the beginning, we did give a lot of weightage to the issue, this is not a run-of-the-mill disease, this is a new virus. But we have informed opinion from doctors since politicians tend to blur facts.”
Media analyst with The Indian Express Shailaja Bajpai said she did not see these fine distinctions between hysteria and information. “We are never calm about anything. We fling around unsubstantiated figures, we repeat footage and information ad nauseam making a crisis seem bigger than it is.”
Dr Rama Baru, professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that the media’s ignorance and, often over-the-top reporting, stems from the fact that the government has not given out the appropriate information.
Times Now’s Arnab Goswami refused to be drawn into this debate though his channel too has not escaped criticism from media analysts. As the days go by, Sonia feels that other events are overtaking the headlines. “Our channel has been careful not to show grief and trauma. This way, we hope to minimise panic.” Rajdeep Sardesai’s strategy to minimise panic has been to open helplines with trained doctors on call. “Our lines are blocked, the response has been so huge.”
(With political bureau inputs)