In the first part of the blog, we examined how a series of unpleasant global events got their space in media and what the concept of media hype roughly means. In this part, let’s take this conversation further.
Social media is a natural fit for media companies in general and broadcasters in particular. Engagement remains one of the most important pillars for the industry and has been so since its earliest days.
So, when the hysteria is rife, it is wise to look back at history. In 1997, we were told that the avian flu could kill millions worldwide. Thankfully, it did not. The first SARS outbreak of 2003 was reported to have a 25% chance of killings tens of millions, and being categorised as an epidemic worse than AIDS. Then, in 2009, pigs replaced birds. The BBC announced that swine flu ‘could really explode.’ The council of Europe’s health committee chairman described the 2009 pandemic hype as ‘one of the great medical scandals of the century.’
We all have been here before, but the explosive reach and impact of social media and the easy access of news have almost turned this into a soap opera with a new dramatic turn every week. It has certainly put the virus at the forefront of the public’s minds. This might be viewed as a health promotion measure but is resulting in a disproportionate response of fear and anxiety from the public.
There are, after all, several other health and broader social issues that would also merit such coverage from the press.
Secondly, the language to describe the virus is also adding fuel to the fires, with phrases such as ‘deadly virus,’ ‘public health emergency,’ and ‘outbreak’ mirroring the scripts of disaster movies rather than real life.
Moral of this hype story? Know that the media has a role to play in overplaying the virus causes and effects. wash your hands, not your brain, with the media feed.
Adnan Wahidi is Account Executive at Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. | www.cbpr.me