Bankole: Pandemic spotlights the role of press

Bankole Thompson

Coronavirus fears have led to a spike in consumers' appetite for health information. With news that the pandemic is ravaging countries around the world alongside news of the virus's continued spread in our nation, people are looking for credible information on how to stay safe. 

In the process some become susceptible to disinformation. There is unverified information about the pandemic on social media. From false data to outright uninformed opinions on the virus making the rounds, people can easily become victims of propaganda that undermines the fight to defeat the pandemic.  

In this case, the professional media becomes a line of defense, providing people with proven scientific information on the virus, its spread and prevention methods. We have an obligation to make sure that the information the public is consuming is dependable.

Even as COVID-19 unmasks the vulnerability of our national healthcare system, the media must ensure that those who are responsible for the failures are held accountable to taxpayers and push for better disaster preparedness plans in the future.

Detroiters have asked me when the virus will end and how contagious it is. The fact that I get asked these questions even though I’m not a health expert is proof of the journalist's role. We are supposed to have access to quality and reliable information on the pandemic. 

Journalists have been persistent in demanding answers from officials at the highest levels of the government about how it initially bungled the response to the virus.

Underscoring this watchdog role of the press as coronavirus cases increase in the state, the leadership of the Michigan Press Association sent a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week imploring her to declare newspapers an “essential service,” in the event a shelter-in-place order becomes necessary where everyone would be required to stay at home. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on MSNBC speaking about coronavirus measures.

“We would appreciate this clarification that media organizations including newspapers are essential businesses to remain open during the COVID-19 crisis in order to continue to inform the public about their health, safety and welfare,” the group’s president, Richard Lamb, and James Tarrant, the executive director, jointly wrote. “Freedom of movement for credentialed reporters and those delivering newspapers is essential to our ability to keep the public apprised of rapidly evolving developments during this pandemic.” 

At this time of grave concern about the long-term damage COVID-19 will have on our communities, the media must remain diligent in asking tough questions of elected and appointed officials regarding the pandemic. That includes taking time to understand the destitution and the disadvantages of those who are likely to be left behind in this crisis.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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