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Coronavirus: Role of media in causing stigma, creating scare but hiding information about own staff

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Role of Media in Coronavirus  Media and Corona  Media bias  Stigma  Scare  Bhopal  Hindi newspapers  Jehangirabad




Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

BHOPAL: Nothing can be more unfortunate than the fact that certain newspapers played a role in spreading stigma and created scare, rather than educating masses even in the times of Coronavirus pandemic.

Let's take the example from one city. For days, the papers screamed about a locality--Jehangirabad in Bhopal that had reported slightly more number of cases. As a result, people in rest of the city, felt that people in the area were casual, careless and responsible for spreading the infection. The reports were lopsided, in fact, created such a powerful narrative that people started blaming the area in conversations and on social media. 

This was not reporting or journalism but unfortunately it passes off as journalism. Later, when infections reached the offices of these newspapers, they simply chose to suppress the information, and didn't publish any report about it, even when the figures reached dozens. Forget the basics about transparency, obligation in informing citizens, the double standards were visible.

In the office of a Hindi daily, which is part of one of the largest circulating newspapers in India, almost three dozen persons got infected. But there was 'media black out', nothing about it. Another newspaper too had multiple cases but there was no report, no questions raised, though in case of localities, people were blamed and questioned, even demonised.

That Jehangirabad is a Muslim dominated locality, led to even more stigma. The comments in Facebook groups of Bhopal, on any story and link about the cases in city, then reflected how this sustained campaign to demonize a locality, had affected citizens in general in the city.

Firstly, if an area registers Corona patients, newspapers report, sometimes focus a lot, give excessive coverage to such an extent that it leads to stigma. But when dozens in one local newspaper office alone got infected, paper didn't report it, other papers too suppressed this info as papers are part of 'media fraternity'.

It is unwritten 'code of conduct' that no other paper would publish it! This is unforgivable because if papers and news channels hide info, there is no way the information can reach people. It's the primary duty of the media. Everything in this world--every opinion is formed because of 'news' that reaches public.

When media houses will act so blatantly, unethically, play role in spreading stigma even when it comes to society, and on the other hand hiding own info, what'll happen! It's not a privilege to demonize locality and spread hate or create stigma. But it is a privilege, sadly, that you decide what not to publish, yet you can pontificate and still stigmatize others.

This is disgusting because a lot of things are correlated, not just perceptions but everything, from what ordinary people face, the treatment, public policy decisions, all are linked to media coverage. However, if it is decided that we will be 'evil' and still act 'saintly', then what is left to be said! I don't want to go deep into it, but as a journalist I feel that I must talk about it, put it down on record. It's time we self-regulate, else, we can't have the moral authority to speak, educate and inform the citizens. Photo: Kaboompics, Pexels

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Journalist for more than 20 years. Had started his career with National Mail in the nineties. Worked as Special Correspondent with Hindustan Times, as an Assistant Editor with DB Post, later Contributing Editor with The Huffington Post, writes for First Post, The Wire, Newsd & several other major publications.