Covid-19: this contagious and unpredictable virus doesn’t need much of an
introduction. Everyone’s gaze is fixed upon this pandemic that is changing
the world as we know it, and we all are certainly feeling its effect in our
Although every country and every single person is affected by it in some
way (whether it has affected their family directly or if it has had a
social or economic effect), we at Family and Media wondered how
this historical event is being documented. What slant is being given to the
news that talk about it?
Here are some comments that we would like to share:
1) We are witnessing the problem of “over-communication”
If only this epidemic had taken place 50 years ago, we wouldn’t be so
overwhelmed by such a huge amount of information that now proliferates our
lives via various platforms: TV special reports, YouTube video news,
Netflix documentaries, news outlets’ short videos, … but what does this
The first thing one notices when looking for documentaries or news reports
on Covid-19 is the abundance of audio-visual material.
It is true that the topic: a) is quite current, b) affects the entire
global population, c) affects all areas of our lives.
It is not a “circumscribed” fact, which interests just a part of the
population as, for example, it might be with “The Roman Empire” or the
history of Barcelona FC as explained in “Barça Dreams.”
Therefore, due to the uniqueness of this global health emergency, every
broadcaster in every nation deals primarily with this topic, thereby
overloading platforms with information.
In other words, it is impossible to watch all the videos, interviews, and
documentaries created all over the world about Covid-19, even if you have
weeks to do so.
2) The consequence of over-communication is misinformation due to
an excessive dose of news.
Surfing the internet, we find ourselves in a situation like when a student
raises his hand to ask a question, but 30 teachers answer him at the same
How can we untangle the threads? How do we choose which videos to watch?
How can we select which sources will be informative?
A famous novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tells how, in order to hide a very
compromising document, a shrewd owner leaves it on the desk along with a
bunch of other irrelevant documents. That’s exactly what intelligence
services have been doing for millennia: filtering out a piece of truth
along with tons of misinformation.
In the case of Covid-19, there is no twisted mind behind it, as the
conspiracy theorists would very much like––just the combined mental
laziness of an entire society with the intersected interests of many
powerful people. Therefore, we are uninformed due to a flood of news,
statements, reruns, opinions, comments, data, conflicting figures… all of
which create the illusion of plenty of “information supply.”
Truth (i.e., “real information”) is not a commodity that can be obtained
for free or purchased cheaply, without the effort and strain on our minds
and without the investment of our precious time to study the issues. While
the truth is simple, the reality is complex, and to understand it, one must
make an effort. We have presented a case on our portal:
the delays of the most important news agency in the world in reporting
the Chinese government’s delays in informing the WHO
. The Associated Press reports (or perhaps just absolves) the Chinese
government’s fatal delay of six days and takes… 75 days to do so!
3) The problem of how data is analyzed and presented
One of today’s problems related to information is the erroneous or
instrumental analysis of data, sometimes done out of ignorance, sometimes
done to defend vested interests.
As a professor of Political Philosophy, Daniel Innerarity points out in an
article entitled Pandemia sin Verdad (“Pandemic without Truth”):
“Part of this disregard for the truth is attributable to the actions of
some governments, which have hidden or manipulated data. More troubling,
however, is the disorientation and errors that result from data that are
true, but have not been properly contextualized or analyzed. This shows
that data is as conclusive as it is malleable, and that anyone can present
information in a way that favors his own viewpoint. Data fanaticism tends to defend figures, tables, and graphs as if
it they will assure us protection against ideologizing. But data is not
necessarily the opposite of ideological mystification; it can foster
objectivity but also serve any ideology.”
4) Politics and Covid-19 are two closely-related topics
The way politicians are managing the crisis is of interest to their
constituents, and the way citizens perceive the government’s management of
the crisis is of interest to politicians. This is why some of the first
search results for Covid-19 are reports that accuse politicians of having
covered up mistakes or underestimated the phenomenon, of not having done
everything in their power to avoid deaths, and therefore to be held partly
And is the press really free of political conditioning? Are scientists
themselves––who must study what has happened––“free” to publish the
truth, making their government leaders squirm?
Some examples put an idea in our minds (and perhaps more than one) that
this freedom has been seriously compromised.
To give an example, here’s a fact about Covid in Italy, one of the first
countries affected by the pandemic: a documentary done by Rai 3’s Report
on November 2, 2020 speaks of a censorship by the WHO on a research dossier
(done by a Venetian research group that depends on the WHO and is approved
by a WHO scientific committee), which was kept quiet. This was due to talk
of a serious shortcoming of the European Vice-President of WHO, who,
although in the past was in charge of updating the Italian national
pandemic plan, never even touched the 2006 plan, which was completely
inadequate for the present circumstances––a plan which had the potential of
saving up to 10,000 lives had it been updated, according to sources
interviewed in the documentary.
The dossier, first accepted by the WHO, was then withdrawn in order to
get a prominent member of the WHO out of trouble.
5) Only small publishers can afford to make inconvenient
Given the great entanglement between political power and the press,
it is much easier for voices to be heard outside of the chorus than for
“small” voices of little importance in the great abyss of news.
A prime example is the case of the missing dossier reported by Report, there was no trace of it in the national news. So, broadly saying, the most inconvenient theories for politicians are not found in
Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, the first scientific medical
journal to show concern about the existence of the disease (article from
January 24, 2020) has written a book-denunciation of the behavior of
Western governments (Great Britain, USA, France, Italy, and Spain mainly)
and the scientific intelligence of these countries entangled with their
governments: Covid-19. What’s Gone Wrong and How to Stop It Happening Again
(June 2020, written during confinement). Well, the publisher of the book is
not Pearson, Thompson Reuters, Penguin, Wolters Kluwer, Planeta,
Mondadori… Instead, the publisher is a small British publishing house of
“civic resistance”: Polity Press.
Even more complete and well-composed than this impassioned denunciation by
Horton is Joseph Tritto’s book:Cina Covid 19. La chimera che ha cambiato il mondo ( China Covid-19. The Chimera that Changed the World) from another
publisher of resistance: Edizioni Cantagalli (Italy). His theory, which
seems well-founded, is disturbing. It discusses an accidental leak in the
scientific laboratory experiments in Wuhan (China), which were financed by
both the big western pharmaceutical industry with scientific expertise
acquired in France and the United States as well as advanced technology. It
is well known that doing experiments with fewer ethical and legal
constraints is cheaper in China than in the West, as it is making cell phones.
6) The tones of our leaders are similar across the European
It is interesting to note that nearly all political leaders around the
world are broadcasting an optimistic message to their constituents because
they are invested in it somehow. From the United States to France, to Italy
(where a book in which the Minister of Health spoke of “victory over the
virus” was recently withdrawn and would have been released shortly after
the second wave): they are keen to let people know that everything is under
China said from the beginning that everything was under control when, as
reported by several sources, the first patients affected by this new form
of SARS were quarantined – without mentioning it to anyone.
If citizens use the media to get information, politicians use the media to
convey their messages and the impression is that, in order not to lose
approval, in order to keep the masses calm, there has been a tendency
to deflate the numbers of deaths, to avoid autopsies, and to circulate
reassuring slogans on the news of the national networks (in Italy, for
example, there’s the now well-known slogan “Andrà tutto bene”––or
“Everything will be fine”).
The most pressing and critical information on government actions appear
much more often online or on in-depth broadcasts (and sometimes podcasts)
rather than in the news of national television networks.
We leave you with a question, rather than an answer, and that is: why is
the role of a “guardian” of traditional information sources in crisis?