Losing Our Heads

The panicked and breathless reporting by news organizations the world over this past week over an outbreak of an influenza strain is precisely the antitheses of what good journalism should be: measured and balanced. It also serves to dampen public perception of the news industry.

What was screamingly billed as a fast-approaching pandemic this time last week has fizzled into nothing more than a vastly overblown story.

Swine flu, it turns out, is no more dangerous than ordinary, common influenza, which millions of people catch each year and most recover; however for the young and elderly, there can be fatalities.

For once, Indonesia’s health minister, Siti Supari, was on the ball, when she said amid a global media frenzy it was unlikely this country would be affected by the H1N1 virus that killed almost two dozen people in Mexico – far from the more than 150 it was “feared” previously – and if cases of infection did arise here, there was no need for alarm.

“We have to be alert at all times, although swine flu in Indonesia is not a cause for panic,” she said, her main rationale being that the virus does not enjoy hotter climates such as ours.

(The minister’s view that the new virus could be “genetically engineered” by Western entities to bolster pharmaceutical companies’ profits largely speaks for itself, however.)

To be sure, any clusters of influenza occurrences are a cause for concern, but not hysterical overreaction. With a rash of health scares in this part of the world in recent years, health authorities have become ever more adept at implementing preventative measures and stockpiling necessary medicines – drugs that were not available during the flu pandemics at the start of the last century that caused such massive loss of life.

So we say: let the news media not be the boy who cried wolf.

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