COMMENT 

The welcome return of the expert

The corona virus is putting considerable strain on society and the economy. The press has an important role to play in maintaining calm.

By James Evelegh

The welcome return of the expert
Photograph: Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

I liked the response of Liverpool football manager Jürgen Klopp, when asked for his views on the coronavirus. To paraphrase: “Why ask me? I’m just a football manager. My opinion is really not important. Ask the experts.”

It’s good to hear someone stick up for experts again, just as it is reassuring to see the UK government placing such emphasis on following their advice when it comes to the virus.

The crisis has also prompted the Johnson government, initially standoffish, to properly engage with the media; the press has an important role to play.

The press can help allay fears and maintain calm, through reporting developments accurately and in a measured way and giving useful advice. Without experts and the dissemination of their advice through responsible mainstream media, there would be an information vacuum which would quickly be filled by chaos-mongers and the ill-informed on social media.

Emily Bell wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian about the situation in the US, about how President Trump needs the press, which he has routinely trashed, to form an effective response to the virus, because “frequent, accurate press coverage and information is a central part of effective response.”

The other area where the media can help is in how it actually refers to the virus. This strain of the coronavirus has been named Covid-19 by the WHO, and you’d think that would be the end of the matter. Yet, some right wing politicians and media outlets in the US have now routinely started referring to is as the ‘Wuhan virus’ or ‘Chinese coronavirus’.

Such cynical mislabelling is potentially very dangerous. The WHO is clear: “Governments, citizens, media, key influencers and communities have an important role to play in preventing and stopping stigma surrounding people from China and Asia in general.”

Indeed. Our first instinct should be to listen to the WHO and follow expert advice.