Is the News failing in its fundamental duty?

(Photo: The Guardian)

By Brooke Davies Contributor and Editor of York Vision

One no longer needs to be explicitly told that the Coronavirus has reached nearly every corner of society as we know it. Politics, economics, and the quality of one’s life has never been so collectively tested in living memory.

It is the responsibility of the news to inform, so it is no wonder that the virus encompasses most media outlets, which to some extent, is a good thing. Citizens deserve to be informed of the decisions made by their governments, which have acquired an unprecedented level of power; the ability to place an entire population on lockdown represents a new level of essential control, particularly in liberal democracies.

The news rightly conveys information on the virus itself, with daily death-tolls being a stark reminder as to why these new laws are in place. Furthermore, any updates on prevention and ‘cures’ are channeled through these media outlets, such as news stories revolving around the creation of a vaccine, and new government guidelines on social distancing.

So, at first glance the news is living up to its fundamental duty; the informative Coronavirus related stories and headlines are undoubtedly feeding the population the (mostly) relevant and factual knowledge needed during this pandemic.

However, if we are accepting that current affairs are being accurately channeled through news outlets, then we can assume that conflict and violence has accepted the urgency of the virus and has since ceased to exist.

I learnt from ‘University Radio York’’ that on the 18th April, Canada suffered one of its worst mass shootings in its history. That night I watched the evening news, to see there was no mention of the attacks; the pieces included, however, concerned only the pandemic, with one article discussing the fact that there will be no more crowds in highstreets for some time. This was a story that delivered no new information and took the place of a major terrorist incident.

The News is already burdened by its Western-centric narrative, as its focus covers incidents of major violence only concerning the West of the World. Adding Coronavirus into the mix, will lead to further naivety regarding other worldly events. Even Brexit, a topic that dominated headlines for months and led to the resignations of two Prime Ministers has since been kicked to the back of the news agenda, with reporters preferring to cover the weekly NHS clap.

When looking at the media of other democratic countries, the UK is clearly falling behind; Germany’s international broadcaster ‘DW’ has published stories covering domestic politics and state intelligence, but the virus still dominates plenty of headlines. This is a balance that UK media is failing to achieve.  

Even countries with state-controlled media are doing better than the UK. ‘Russia Today’ includes stories about the Coronavirus, but also includes stories on infrastructure and militarism (albeit with an anti-liberal rhetoric). In no way is Russian Press an example to follow, but even they are covering topics unrelated to the Virus.

Time might be the solution to UK broadcasting; there will be other events which will require the attention of news outlets, which is already starting to show. At the time of writing, the murder of law student Aya Hachem has been covered by various websites; the plane crash in the city of Karachi is also somewhat prominent in headlines. Yet, the story of minister Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown is front-and-centre across the media spectrum, alongside France’s recent updates on quarantine policies.  

So, can we really argue that the news is adhering to its fundamental duty? It is important for the public to remain informed about the Coronavirus, but this has led to the sacrifice of information regarding literally anything else. The news is just giving the public what it thinks we want, when in reality, stories about events other than the virus will serve as a reminder that life goes on, despite lockdown. This will perhaps be beneficial to the population, who are being inundated with the depressing consequences of Covid-19.

The news is upholding its fundamental duty to inform, but only on the subject of the Coronavirus, leading to a hijacking of public knowledge. The population deserves to be told of other events outside of the health sphere. 

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