KARACHI: The Uks Research Centre, a media monitoring, analysis and advocacy group, has aired its concerns over the continued politicisation of Covid-19 in the mainstream media.

Sharing a press release on Wednesday, Uks said it was “deeply perturbed at the continued politicisation of Covid-19 on our national, mainstream electronic [albeit 24/7 TV channels], as well as in some parts of print as well.

“We have been monitoring the coverage of this deadly pandemic from day one, when it wasn’t even declared one. We have seen [through the world media] massive outbreaks, growing numbers of cases, rising number of deaths and then we saw it come to Pakistan. This concern that Uks is sharing is mainly addressed to TV talk shows as they impact the public more — both the literate and illiterate.

“The media response initially was not so scientific or accurate as it was trying to grapple with the enormity of the crisis. That, to some extent, was understandable. However, what we have monitored for the whole month of March and now April has seen a great shift in the tone, attitude and focus of many of the print and electronic content. Though there was some kind of a tug of war between a province and the Centre [questioning ‘why do numbers matter?’ or ‘whether to go for a full or partial lockdown’], largely the content focused on the updates, information, etc.

“But, unfortunately, since last week, Uks has monitored a new spate of war on the media and barring a few, most of the TV talk shows are busy in pitting a province against the other or Centre against a province. We have counted how ‘guests’ are invited from various political parties [three to be more specific] and how the whole discussion is tailored. This is incredibly bad for outbreak control. It can drive our public away from acquiring information on prevention and updates to fall for who’s right and who’s wrong.

“The politicisation of this outbreak will prove a difficult aspect to manage. The debates on social media specially on Twitter has ‘unfortunately’ mostly been racist, sectarian, ethnic and sexist.

“Uks understands that it is a tough balance to expect from our TV talk shows where politics is the core focus — irrespective of the issue/s under discussions. So, we have politics inherently intertwined with the Covid-19 response, and it is impossible to tell whether some of the actions taken by governments — federal and provincial — will pay off in the long run or should the public be prepared for a bleaker scenario?”

In view of all these things, Uks has made three appeals to media practitioners, advertisers and the public.

They asked media practitioners to kindly avoid taking up issues with a premeditated agenda of political score setting; try not to invite guests who you know will engage in political arguments. And to kindly remember that “Your five seconds of preaching on ‘unity’ is not going to have an impact after an hour-long programme full of political bashing, accusations and counter-accusation.”

They asked the advertisers and their clients to show some national and social responsibility. “Please see, if you can completely stay away from supporting content that incites the public, hinges on hate speech and creates national and regional divisions in this gravest of grave times? Losing a little money is better than losing human lives.”

And they have asked the public to reject politicised and mundane debates. “Demand reports from professionals in the field of infectious disease — or anyone with any level of understanding about the pandemic is easy to understand and is as up to date as possible. Although the numbers are of interest to you, it’s also important for you to see the story behind the numbers, of success stories, of best practices.”

Lastly, they asked the entire media, but specifically the 24/7 TV channels, their owners, managing directors, bureau chiefs, and above all the anchors and analysts to also show some responsibility, and refrain from politicising Covid-19. Quoting the World Health Organisation’s Directory-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said “If you don’t want many more body bags then you refrain from politicizing it,” Uks said that “As none of us want to add on to the body bags — in any part of Pakistan — it could be [God forbid] mine, yours or our near and dear ones. The pandemic has no boundaries. We can all be carriers and we are all vulnerable,” the press release concluded.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2020

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