Six months after Corona hits India half-truths spread as fast as virus

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An atmosphere of fear is being fuelled by media's irresponsible coverage of Coronavirus pandemic. ( Unsplash)
An atmosphere of fear is being fuelled by media's irresponsible coverage of Coronavirus pandemic. ( Unsplash)

The psychological impact these debates and panel discussions in the studios are causing are taking a much heavier toll than the Corona. Why should everyone in the society–strong or lily-hearted–know the nitty-gritty of the disease.

Six months after the first case of Corona Virus was detected in Kerala on Jan 30 it is the half-truths which have spread as fast as the disease itself in India, thus causing severe psychological Impact. And if, the government, has failed to rise to the occasion one institution which behaved in the most irresponsible way was none else but the media–especially the electronic channels.

The tragedy is that talk to any of them in the media and hardly anyone would concede that they have wreaked havoc in the society. There is no denying the fact that COVID-19 is a virus which has the potential to take a heavy toll of life. Yet 180-odd days later, and after more than 35,000 deaths, the daily toll due to this pandemic never peaked to something between 1,000 and 1,200 in India. This is the number of deaths caused by tuberculosis everyday in the country. This fact was totally overlooked even on March 24 when the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made a televised address to impose a lockdown.

Psychological Impact of excessive discussion and insensitive Corona reporting

The biggest problem with the whole Corona episode is that the rulers and the mediapersons–and this applies not only to India–have failed to draw a fine line between cautioning and counselling the common masses and creating panic by excessive warning and discussing each and every aspect of the disease in the television channels.

The psychological impact these debates and panel discussions in the studios are causing are taking a much heavier toll than the Corona. Why should everyone in the society–strong or lily-hearted–know the nitty-gritty of the disease. This over-reaction in dealing with the situation has either pushed a large number of people into depression and at the same time many others have started living in the state of denial.

The second type of people take the whole WHO version with a pinch of salt or see a deep international conspiracy. The sad side of this fact is that nobody, at least in the media, is going to realize this huge error in judgement. We are not going to accept the hard reality that today much larger number of people are dying of sudden heart attack than COVID-19.

A sizeable number of them who lost their lives in such a way had no history of heart ailment. The day in and day out ‘propaganda’–yes it appears to be right the expression–about Corona Virus coupled by prolong lockdown and police brutality have only increased the tension among the common masses. What our journalist friends are unable to fathom is the psychological impact the photograph causes. This is entirely different from the printed materials published in newspapers.

In the past newspapers used to maintain journalistic ethics and would not carry any photograph of a dead person. Gradually the media started violating this guideline. Some TV channels while showing such scene would just apologetically say that the shots being shown may appear disturbing. Some others may blur the photo. The innumerable Youtube channels behave even more irresponsibly, since their over sensationalise stories on Corona utterly disregard the detrimental psychological impact such reporting may have.

Insensitive government machinery

Take the case of a young migrant labour, hardly in late teen, who missed the last train from Delhi to his home town in Bihar just after the lockdown was imposed in March. The channels showed his weeping and screaming face throughout the day and night. Imagine what psychological impact the photos would have caused to his immediate relatives back home in Bihar.

There is no problem in carrying the stories of valour, boldness, act of bravery or display of fighting spirit shown by the media.The logic of media-persons is often weird. They would argue that had we not shown cases like that of the teenaged boy the government would not have responded.

But this is more the problem of the lack of sensitiveness of the government machinery rather than anything else.The situation has reached to such a pass that today a person showing even a mild symptom of Corona Virus is committing suicide. They include doctors, bureaucrats, young professionals etc. By first over-warning the common people about the use of sanitiser and mask and then cautioning them not to over-use them we have confused the common masses.

What about thousands of people in the country who were brutally assaulted by the police because they failed to wear mask. Now the Jharkhand government has imposed a fine of Rs one lakh or jail of two years for those not using it.

Class factor and capitalists’ interest

In contrast the media is totally underplaying the fact that the use of centralised AC, smoking, drinking, chewing tobacco etc. are much more detrimental to health than any other thing. There is total unanimity among the experts on this count as all these addictives are extremely harmful for heart, lungs, kidney etc.

Most of the people who fell victims of Corona are those who were suffering from heart, kidney, or lungs related ailments. Ironically an overwhelming percentage of people tested COVID-19 come from the middle and upper middle classes and those who are used to air conditioners–such as bureaucrats, politicians, senior police officers etc. when their interaction with the masses is limited and when they are expected to abide by the rules.

In fact there was a big queue in all the liquor shops in Delhi and elsewhere in the country on the first day the lockdown rules were relaxed. The social media was full with posts of many drunkards who were in celebrated mood and claiming that they were doing a service to the country by buying liquor and thus contributing to the exchequer. What a fantastic logic it was.

Hardly any media in India highlighted the news that cigarette and liquor were banned in South Africa after the lockdown was imposed.Why no government in India had decided to impose fine and jail for alcoholism and smoking when they too are so harmful? Obviously because nobody wants to antagonise the capitalist lobby, whatsoever the cost one has to pay.

Unwarranted political assemblies

One may exonerate the Gujarat government for the spread of  the pandemic as Namaste Trump was organised on Feb 24 in Ahmedabad when it could not have anticipated the impact of Corona. We can also give some benefit of doubt to the overthrow of Kamal Nath government and installation of Shivraj Singh Chauhan on March 23.

But how can we defend the big spurt in Bihar after June 7 virtual rally of Union home minister Amit Shah when the state BJP machinery was pressed into service to make it a big success. Is not the fact that the top brass of the Bihar BJP and their family members suddenly got inflicted by this disease after that event .

Several low-level party functionaries died but the news was not allowed to spread. But they could not do so in case of the death of MLC Sunil Singh. Who was actually violating the so-called social distancing?

Abrupt lockdown

Half a year later the entire world has realised that lockdown is useless if it is not followed by quick action by the government in toning up the health sector.

We imposed the lockdown within four hours notice and rendered millions of people homeless across the country–especially in mega-cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, or even Kolkata. These huge accumulation of migrant labours for so many weeks compounded the miseries and led to the huge spurt in the cases of COVID-19 in these places.

So Corona Virus did not spread in the natural process, rather it was allowed to spread. We hardly built any makeshift hospital, barring a handful. Instead all the existing hospitals have their doors closed for non-COVID patients. The hospitals have become the unsafest place. There are innumerable cases of non-Corona patients or their attendants getting inflicted by the pandemic once they are back home from these hospitals. We are not ready to take this fact into account.

(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)

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