The world is at war—a health war. Every nation is fighting for its survival. The enemy is not the other nations nor terrorism; it is an invisible enemy, the so called COVID-19. There has been a global spread with cases identified in 73 countries and tens of thousands of people testing positive for the virus. This is not a simple time for any of us, but it is an important time for media and journalism in the Philippines, as it is in the rest of the world, because we are maneuvering in uncharted territory. The coming weeks will be a test of our nation’s resilience, our health system’s sufficiency, and much more. It will also be a test for media and journalists’ ability to continue writing and distributing the news at a time of great personal and national uncertainty. Governments in 73 countries have announced or implemented the closure of educational institutions in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease. The media has been following every step of this problem with multiple stories, but several challenges face the media during the Coronavirus outbreak, and they can play a role in containing the world health war and potentially saving a plethora of lives.
Like many countries and companies across the globe, media can urge people to work from home and to self-quarantine. As countries move slowly to a shutdown and even a possible lockdown, media and journalists need more than ever to follow the news, to report the right balanced informations, to keep the public updated, and to ensure that our government officials operate knowing that there is public oversight. However, new information, new cases, new advice, and new restrictions have been challenging to know how to react. This constantly changing information not only makes it difficult to keep abreast of the story from a journalist’s perspective, but it also confuses anyone trying to follow the story.
A news piece read one day could be entirely out of date by the next morning, and this has caused the public to have many questions surrounding the outbreak and the virus. News consumers wonder if the outlets are engaging in fear-mongering, conspiracy, hyperbole, cover-up, or accurate reporting.
It is paramount that media do their utmost to keep up-to-date on the pandemic using reliable information from the perspective of health departments and the World Health Organization (WHO) and do both fact and reality checks on the information in order to remain a trusted source.
One problem centers on the modern day misinformation, stigmas, and fake news. There has been much talk in political spheres about the COVID-19 and a vaccination. Many people believe that the Coronavirus was engineered in a lab as a bioterrorism agent. They believe that China either intentionally or accidentally produced it, the CIA fabricated it, even that Trump manufactured it, or possibly China concocted it to stop the Hong Kong protest. Stigmatizing the victim is another problem that is hard to control in regard to the outbreak. It can cause a person to hide the sickness to avoid discrimination. It prevents individuals from seeking healthcare. It causes others to refuse to admit having the symptoms to avoid quarantine. The trusted media sources should not just ignore this misinformation; they also should try to counter it.
The politicization of COVID-19 has been another big problem for media to manage. Fundamentally, many journalists and media, like CNN, think everything is President Trump’s fault attributing it to a political motive, with anti-Trump rhetoric being an important part of CNN’s rating. CNN is no longer reporting fair and balanced news or even newscasting, but it has almost become political activism against Trump. It is very important to report the facts with a genuine intent to expose the COVID-19 news and to avoid a political motive where lives of so many people are in jeopardy. It is imperative for trusted media and journalism to focus on reporting both the good news and the alarming news.
If the world wants to win this health war, China and the United States of America must not politicize this health crisis and must set aside their differences to tackle the real enemy in this war. The health war is happening when global organizations, like the WHO, are very weak and many countries do not share data with them. However, the world power players, such as the USA and China, should take the lead to ask for an emergency G20 summit to convene before this war kills many people. COVID-19 tells us we are in a boat, and if we do not defeat it, it will sink us all. To help Iran fight the disease, America should lift medical sanctions on the country, because sanctions can create big barriers for Iran that has been hit heavily by the COVID-19.
Approximately 7.5 billion people live in this earth, and 193 countries shape the government of it, but these countries have functionally become cabins on the same boat. Prior to today’s technology, our world was divided by walls, such as the Berlin Wall, but now we are united by the web. Because of advancements in technology, millions of people, goods, and services traverse the world and cross borders. The Coronavirus travels the same way. In spite of China’s trying to lockdown the epicenter city to contain the virus and countries banning flights from in and out of China, the Coronavirus has spread over almost all of the countries including the Philippines.
An undeniable fact is that humanity lives in a single, very interconnected system. It is crucial that the world win this war. All agencies must strengthen the World Health Organization to manage and assist it. Since the WHO does not have much power, the United States should show leadership and unite other power players, but the world is doing the opposite because the WHO is underfunded. The pandemic has broken out at the same times as the global economic war has gained momentum. The question is, will the world powers work together to defeat a common enemy like COVID-19? President Trump should take leadership and call other major world leaders to have a special G20 summit to bring all the nations’ resources together to fight the health war. The world urgently needs decisive actions and the right information so the public knows when to fear and when to take precautions.
(Dr. Aland Mizell is with the MCI, SETBI and a regular Mindanao Times columnist. You may email the author at: email@example.com)