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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, November 6, 2009

Few Journalism Pearls in Swine Flu Coverage

The coverage of the H1N1 "Swine" flu outbreak in Canada is been instructive in that there has been a phenomenal outbreak of media hysteria to go along with the pandemic.

The flu this year is serious with some well publicized examples of heartbreaking deaths. But the coverage has given little, if any perspective on whether this is more serious than in past years.

Some thoughts on what is missing:

1. The intensity of the coverage by the Toronto-based media is due, in part, to this particular media-market where there is a fight to the death among newspapers and broadcasters for circulation and ratings.

2. The financial troubles of CanWest Global - a major media conglomerate - have created an urgency to hype this story to make circulation figures and ratings numbers look better before the company tries to sell off its assets.

3. The loss of editing and reporting positions among all media have reduced
the ability of many media organizations to engage in a journalism of verification and to fact-check. Rumors abound about vaccine availability and queue jumping by hockey teams and hospital administrators.

4. The serendipitous launch of CBC TV's flagship newscast, "The National" almost two weeks ago has allowed the story to be more visually driven than usual.

5. The incompetence of various federal departments who have been working on
disaster planning for five (or is it seven?) years without an outcome was
just condemned by the auditor general. What would happen in an even more serious health crisis?

6. The pharmaceutical industry has not been held accountable, either by the
media or the House of Commons standing committee on health and welfare in terms of production or distribution. Why have the opposition parties not called for hearings?

7. Why hasn't the medical community been brought into the distribution
system instead of leaving inoculations up to local and provincial health bureaucracies?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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