This week, I’ve seen quite a number of references on Facebook to a blog post entitled ‘Journalism is missing the mood of the country‘. The author, Effie Deans, suggests journalists are out of step with the mood and the needs of the nation when they criticise the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Deans asserts that this is harmful for the nation, damaging our morale. The UK, she says, would have lost WWII if Churchill had had to suffer such journalists.
Historically, I’m not sure Churchill would have suffered such journalists. Nor perhaps would he have needed to. He was a strong-minded man with years of military experience who, in the context of a nation under siege, got things done. I remember seeing a note at Bletchley Park where he had scribbled a note authorising the funds the codebreakers needed, which made a significant contribution to the eventual victory.
In 2020, we face a very different threat. A virus isn’t affect by propaganda; it won’t baulk at “attacking” a nation which is perceived as having strong leadership because it isn’t, strictly speaking, attacking us at all but simply replicating. We can’t counterattack but we can take steps to cut off its routes of transmission. We don’t need propaganda (or endless war metaphors); we need truth.
If Deans is saying that journalists need to remember that they are also fallible (eg. “I didn’t read a single journalist who in mid-January accurately predicted how the virus would spread worldwide nor one who said that we should lockdown immediately”) I can agree that far. However, that doesn’t prevent or excuse journalists – and scientists, medics and other politicians – keeping the Government honest.
Does it matter if we can’t perform 100,000 tests per day by the middle of next week? Not really, if our capacity continues to increase and also the ability to make tests available to those who need them. At present, I understand that UK testing capacity already greatly exceeds the number of tests done so I do expect that each day, the Government should be able to report on the steps being taken towards allowing at least those involved in health and social care to be tested when and where they need it.
Here’s a radical thought: the Government should welcome being held to account and actively confess when it realises it has made mistakes. By any sane estimate, we still have a long way to go before we can look back on this crisis and quite possibly decades before we leave the economic, social and psychological effects behind.