A silent perception revolution has taken place in the media world following the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Media credibility, essentiality, utility and accountability have gained tremendously since January 2020 as the sizzling news of the virus from Wuhan went viral across seven continents.
In fact the WHO, the guardian world body, came under unprecedented yet justified criticism for delaying the news of this most vicious virus, allegedly under Chinese pressure. This delay, the whole world’s media screamed, allowed a lot of critical time and space for the coronavirus to spread across 190 countries within weeks!
The media let the world know that China villainously and mischievously continued to permit international flights out of the country, while banning incoming flights from other nations. China’s impermeable new “bamboo curtain” around COVID epicentre Wuhan led to major conspiracy theory stories of inhuman magnitude – massacres of hundreds of thousands of COVID victims in Wuhan under absolute military lockdown.
Haven’t we all seen scary videos in dozens with military atrocities on hapless quarantined people in Wuhan? Serious patients being burnt alive along with the dead!
This butchery, atrocities and official media blackouts crystallised the hiatus between the Chinese holocaust and the Western open societies.
We all now experience vital information shared in all media — both mainstream and social media — regarding COVID-19 outbreak. Can you imagine the world now without the media? No. It’s scary! We do manage and survive because of steady supply of information by media platforms.
Despite fake news and inspired stories on success formulae to fight COVID-19, the average mass of media consumers have trusted what the media have reported. The digital social media has become an inseparable part of our pandemic fighting armour with its appeal of “news now” and “news 24×7!
Therefore, the credibility of news media has multiplied several fold. Its utility has gone up several notches in the last six months. It has come in handy for national governments, healthcare organizations, world bodies, pharma research organizations and medical professionals to communicate with a massive worldwide audience highly motivated to consume the curated information on COVID-19 treatment protocols, new medicines, new normal lockdown routines and other tidbits and factoids.
The microphone-wielding TV reporters doing round-the-clock coverage from hospitals, government briefing centres and deserted streets have become fixated in our COVID-19 fight perception like PPE-clad doctors and nurses. The masked human meme has become deeply etched in our subconscious, thanks to the media.
Every country and every provincial government has been briefing the media everyday so that they convey the news to the world. We saw the US President pushing the case for HCQ tablets and the unsparing trolls that have hounded him till this day.
Now, in all this drama of pandemic mass casualties, ordeals at hospitals, numerous mathematical modellings floated by epidemiologists, the myth and truth of herd immunity, we have come to realise that the media, especially news media, have become our dependable partners in these tough times of health crisis. In fact, the exclusion of almost all other news from news platforms is not being lamented.
It’s an existential crisis for mankind, a modern-day resurrection of the Spanish Flu of 1918 in which millions died across the world. So media shares credible news, scientific data regarding the virus, treatment protocols, the do’s and dont’s, and of course the consequential economic crisis every country is facing.
It’s no surprise that during India’s umpteen lockdowns and shutdowns, the media was exempted like the police and the healthcare personnel. As a media academic, I am glad at this unanimous uptick for media in the COVID-19 battle agenda across the world.
The continuous shutdowns and ‘work from home’ corporate practices have brought new compelling roles of office work and leisure time contents in the media, especially digital social media. This has made media tech and contents a vital part of our active life in lockdown mode. The media’s indispensibility has forever been sculpted in our collective subconscious.
The ubiquitous smartphone has brought a lot of media power in the hands of the ordinary people, who are using these hand-held digital devices for a wider range of essential activities – like person to person text and video messages, group content consumption, banking operations, e-commerce transactions, and now online classrooms and telemedicines etc. A large number of human needs are met by the smartphone and the internet.
Porn, TikTok and Helo type trivial and short video-sharing platforms and karaoke apps have mushroomed. It also has a homogenisation impact on worldwide consumers, threatening the national and regional cultural identities.
On the other hand, serious blog-writing podcasts and YouTube channels have proliferated. The worldwide web and internet have brought news and info to the reach of a massive chunk of humankind. Media has, therefore, become a universal necessity, that has been cemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic!
Truly, media and journalism are undergoing a churn that is accentuating convergence at worldwide scale of telecom, computing, entertainment, governance and news.
This revolution in media sphere has been triggered from the survival instinct of humans during this pandemic. But the consequences are going to be far-reaching, totally disrupting the way we live, eat, talk, build, grow and develop as human beings! Let’s hope that this brave new online world will lead to a more just and equitable society free of exploitation!
(Prof. Dr Umakant Mishra is Former DG All India Radio and Former Director IIMC Dhenkanal)