Coronavirus: Does Radio have a Responsibility?

Comment form Peter Saxon.

Just a little over a year ago, I was at Darling Harbour near Sydney’s China Town with WSFM’s Jonesy and Amanda along with almost 1,000 of their listeners to usher in the Chinese New Year of the Pig by making an attempt on the Guinness World Record for eating Yum Cha
Today, the normally bustling China Town is eerily sombre. Its restaurants almost empty, largely due to unfounded fears about the coronavirus being carried by anyone of Asian appearance. And if you think that’s irrational, apparently in America, sales of Corona Beer have slumped.
Just goes to show how things can change. For example:
When I was a young lad in short pants, back in primary school, we were taught that Australia’s leading scientific research organisation was the CSIRO. It was a source of great pride to me and the nation that, like the Australian Cricket team and the Australian Ballet, our scientists could hold their own against any similar institute in the world. It was the men and women of the CSIRO that gave humankind inventions such as Wi-Fi, insect repellent and the polymer bank note. The Parkes Telescope too, remains a vital instrument in NASA’s space program. 

But things have changed. While we still laud the rocket scientists, the medical researchers and the computer technologists of the CSIRO, the branch of experts involved in meteorology and climate science have somehow lost the trust of a significant minority in the media, together with the audiences they attract.

It’s as if the 4,500, or so, climate scientists around the world have been specially selected by aliens to be beamed up on the same day, held captive on a planet in a far away galaxy, while lizard people, hell bent on causing panic and division on Earth, have taken their place. Masquerading as the climate scientists they’ve captured, they spread misinformation about our imminent doom. 
But even a force of invading aliens from outer space can get sloppy, having travelled all that way. Out of 4,500 climate experts, it seems the aliens missed a handful who bravely push against the tide trying to warn us through the aforementioned significant minority of media outlets that climate change is all a hoax. And even if it isn’t, there’s nothing they could have done about it anyway. So why worry about it?
I know it seems far-fetched but how else could you explain that one, just one particular branch of science has gone completely troppo and adopted a common agenda to bring down the world while all the other scientists remain the “stable geniuses” that we’ve always relied upon.
Imagine if that same group of media outlets held the same level of contempt for the medical community that advises you to vaccinate your kids.
Thankfully, we can all still trust this country’s virologists. With the coronavirus expected to shortly reach pandemic proportions, it is comforting to see Prime Minister Scott Morrison show some real leadership. In clear and measured terms, last week he explained how and why he wanted to put the nation “ahead of the curve” by implementing our own pandemic measures even before the World Health Organisation calls it.
But while he was being cautious, he was also upbeat in an effort to quash a common misconception that crowds – particularly those where people of Asian appearance gather – were somehow hotbeds of infection. He said, “You can still go the football, you can still go to the cricket, you can still play with your friends down the street. You can go off to a concert and have a Chinese meal.”
Although “Year of the Rat” may not be the marketers’ choice by which to promote Chinese cuisine compared to the previous “Year of the Pig which worked a treat, China Towns across Australia could well do, right now, with an injection of a Jonesy and Amanda style radio promotion to help bring crowds back.

This may be the time for radio station personalities to lead the charge by taking their listeners to restaurants, movies, football matches… anywhere where crowds gather, Asian or otherwise. It wouldn’t hurt for politicians to be seen to do something similar, not just talk about it… and leave the hard hat and hi-viz jacket at home.

Of course, that advice could change by the time you read this.

In any case, radio must trust the real experts, study up on the facts, tell the truth and not allow callers with conspiracy theories and misinformation to go unchallenged.  It must not allow partisan politics to creep into the discussion and create some confected debate that only serves to divide us when we need to unite against a common enemy.
Radio did a great job during the bushfires, as it invariably does in times of natural disaster. It’s time for radio and all media to once again gird its loins and do what it does best: inform, advise and set a positive tone to ward off thoughts of panic.
Now, if only Israel Folau could do us all a favour and resist the urge to publicly blame the coronavirus on some group that in his mind has earned the wrath of a vengeful deity because they failed to live up to his interpretation of the bible, we’d sleep much better. On the other hand, I hear he’s playing great Rugby League in France. 
Peter Saxon



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