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COVID-19 — The media have taken a dump on democracy

My view on the manner in which the UK media are covering our response to the COVID-19 pandemic

If Keir Starmer decided to launch a firework towards the meat counter at Sainsbury’s, the story would be plastered all over the front pages and TV news bulletins.

But if Kim Jong-un did exactly the same at his local Kwangbok Supermarket, the story would be suppressed, muted and wouldn’t see the light of day. Either that or North Korean state media would report it as a successful missile test.

The UK is a representative democracy. In such a democracy, it is the people who have the power to determine who our lawmakers are through elections. But the sole existence of elections doesn’t automatically mean we live in a democracy.

Inspired by an existing popular idiom – you can’t create an omelette if you rely solely on eggs. Just like you can’t create a democracy, if you rely solely on elections.

We have to ask – how are people to make a well informed choice of which fillings to opt for? How are people to make a well informed choice of candidate to vote for?

Information is vital in making rational decisions. We need to be informed. But it’s all well and good taking what a politician says or does at face value, but how do we know that what they’re saying or doing is not a load of Brad Pitt?

If information is going to be of any value in a democracy, we need to ensure that it’s served with a side of scrutiny. Ding! That’s when we take the press pack out of the microwave.

Keir Starmer could stand up and claim that he’s the right man to calmly and collectedly steer us through a cold war. But would we believe that if the Daily Mail caught wind of any firework antics at his local Sainsbury’s? In order to make a rational decision on whether elect him, would you agree that we’d need to be informed of what happened at that meat counter?

On our behalf, the press should ask questions of him. “Doesn’t aiming fireworks at a meat counter suggest you’re erratic, Mr Starmer? Surely this shows you’re unstable, Mr Starmer? Did you take advantage of the 3 for 2 offer on toilet rolls, Mr Starmer?”.

In North Korea, their people wouldn’t have anyone openly asking those questions for them. Not without the risk of people shot up against a wall or sent to a labour camp. Kim Wrong-un can fire as many fireworks as he likes.

That’s why freedom of the press is so important to creating and maintaining a healthy democracy. The press are meant to squeeze accountability out of those who wish represent us and hold public office through scrutiny.

I think you get the simple point, so I won’t force feed you it any longer. We all know how crucial freedom of the press is.

But if scrutiny provided by a free press is so important, what happens when the population no longer trusts them? What happens when the news media loses its credibility in the eyes of the people?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re witnessing right now. And when the people cease to trust the press, we have a big, big problem.

However, that problem is not caused by the people. The fault isn’t that the people have proven to be untrusting. Rather, the fault is that the press have proven to be untrustworthy.

The public realised this from the very start of coverage of Coronavirus. The media didn’t set out to cover COVID in a sensible, constructive way. They set out to cause as much artificial trouble and hysteria as possible. Why? Because it’s trouble and hysteria that bring the viewers in.

People watched with disgust as Number 10 press briefings were flooded with cheap ‘gotcha’-styled questions. Questions with very little substance, causing avoidable confusion.

They saw sloppy journalists like Robert Peston refuse to do his research as he failed to grasp the difference between antibody and antigen tests. This in a baseless and failed attempt to bash the Government.

They read a Sunday Times article which completely mislead the public about the way in which COBR meetings are actually work. Thankfully, the people saw through it.

They were even subject to Newsnight and Panorama programmes that were literally crammed with “experts” who turned out to be anti-Government and Labour activists. The BBC didn’t once make viewers aware of their deep party political bias.

The list goes on, so just how couldn’t you lose trust in the press? How could anyone claim that the news media retained any hint of credibility?

It’s easy to gloat at the downfall of the media. After all, they had it coming. But in a democracy, we shouldn’t exactly see their downfall as a good thing.

If the press have acted in a way that is untrustworthy, how is anyone going to value any credibility in the times that they do genuinely provide fair scrutiny? And without valuing credibility in scrutiny, how can we possible hold our lawmakers to account?

They really have dropped themselves into a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation. People just don’t know when or when not to trust them anymore, even if they are being fair.

By inflicting this upon themselves, the press have taken a dump on democracy. They have overcooked the omelette. Burnt it to a crisp. And the question I’ll ask is this: what are they going to do about it?

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