The media infected Europe before the coronavirus

March 23, 2020

As I am sitting in one of the numerous university libraries in Singapore, where I'm currently on a student exchange, I stay alert to incoming news from the various news apps installed on my phone. The buzz phrase of “consuming news” digitally has never been more suitable. People are exposed to breaking news headlines through apps and social media, which take a fraction of a minute to read.

 

We have become needy for information: we pick the stories we find interesting, that impact us geographically and personally, and move on to our daily activities. Our attitude has led the media to change its strategies to face the demand for faster and objective news reporting; a vicious cycle of ever faster information processing and consumption. Has this behavior led us to become more unconscious about what we read, and led the media to underestimate the risk coverage of COVID-19?

 

 

Where was the media?

Looking back, there has been a clear mismanagement by the European media to tackle the severity of the crisis. As an avid news reader, I remember barely hearing about the coronavirus in the Western media when I landed in Singapore beginning of January. Two weeks after my arrival, Singapore had already taken measures to limit public gatherings and YouTube suggestions popped up in my recommendations from press conferences of the Ministry of Health published by the local news agencies.

 

The local media started to take the epidemic seriously, as Chinese New Year was approaching and many families were about to travel around South-East Asia to gather with their loved ones. Their curiosity, fueled by the extensive media coverage of the issue, translated into Singaporeans wanting to understand what the coronavirus was about. The peak of Google word searches for the coronavirus happened during the second week of February in Singapore; meanwhile, it was the end of February for Italy and it has not yet reached its peak in France or Germany.

 

“coronavirus” word search on Google Trends

 

 

Looking at the wording of certain media articles prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, people had little reason to fear the virus as there was no indication coming from the media that our continent could be affected. To illustrate this, the BBC published