Opinion: Why we need less coronavirus media coverage | Opinion | DW | 18.10.2020
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Opinion: Why we need less coronavirus media coverage

Fewer coronavirus headlines? Yes please! argues DW's Cristina Burack. The situation is too serious to risk the information we really need getting lost in a flood of information we don't.

It's that time of year again: Fall in the northern hemisphere. And this year, it means climbing coronavirus infection numbers. While it's shaping up to be a fall like no other, let's not kid ourselves: Didn't we in Europe expect this? What with falling temperatures, the transition back to indoor spaces and a stubborn summer hangover that makes us only reluctantly scale back the socialization granted to us by warmer months?

Expected or not, the ballooning infection numbers here are unsettling. With an average of around 100,000 new cases a day, European infections now account for roughly one-third of new cases in the world. In comparison, the United States is hovering around 60,000 infections new cases a day. Yes, I know, test accessibility there is somewhere between uneven and nonexistent. Still, the fact remains that for all the different measures European nations have put in place at one time or other  lockdowns, widespread mask regulations, restricted opening hours, to name a few — the virus remains defiant.

We would have it otherwise. Tellingly, over the past months, media outlets have stumbled from one article to the next, trying to scour the secret of success in European countries where numbers have remained low and identify fault where they haven't. What exactly was it about Italian behavior that enabled them to keep a second wave at bay until now? Was it laxity, a too-hasty reopening or political incompetence that saw Spain overwhelmed by a new surge before other nations? And what is Germany's seemingly winning equation: rigorous rule-following, a largely individualistic culture or Angela Merkel's magic leadership touch?

We're fatigued — and media play a role

DW MA-Bild Cristina Burack

DW's Cristina Burack

The stereotypes have been inescapable and quite frankly, I don't think the never-ending search for clean-cut explanations has brought us much except awareness of our own desperation to be done with this thing. And, by searching for answers and trying to keep tabs on numbers everywhere, we've tired ourselves out. With headline after headline, 24/7 news tickers, every possible aspect of the coronavirus examined or speculated upon, it's no wonder people feel emotionally fatigued — especially when summer didn't offer them a chance to exhale, as it did for many in Europe.

Given the gravity of the current situation, media, including my own organization, should take a critical look at what coronavirus topics it chooses to cover and why. What crucial information does a readership or viewing public need now? Has medical knowledge on symptoms evolved? How can we best protect ourselves and others? How can those who need help get help? And how can we hold our public officials more accountable for their management?

The situation is too dangerous to risk peopling tuning out from the information they do need because it is lost in a flood of information they don't need. And the other existential threats people face around the world — political persecution, human rights violations, violent intolerance — must not get squeezed out. This would be playing into the hands of those who would gladly have abuses remain background haze amidst pandemic coverage.

Germany: More complicated than represented

I also have one specific note for non-German outlets: It is easy to idealistically oversimplify the situation here. Germany has indeed been spared the worst so far, but it's easy to attribute success when the proverbial Scheiße never really hit the fan. Who really knows whether things remained stable because of favorable demographics and density, an adequate initial response made in good time, a dose of luck, some combination thereof, or something else entirely. Having a head of government who listens to science — heck, who is a scientist! — certainly doesn't hurt. But with a decentralized federal government whose regional leaders seems hellbent on bickering, Merkel's ability to act has been limited, and patchwork management is intensifying.

So the verdict on Germany is still out. And maybe the world doesn't even need a verdict. Maybe, with help from the media, we should simply focus on what can make the biggest difference right now: washing our hands, wearing our masks, keeping our distance and demanding that governments address the needs of those suffering most acutely. Let's not give fodder to the fatigue.

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