Our Media, Our Emergencies and Action

During the world war emergencies of the twentieth century, the media (radio and print) was solidly behind the war effort, either through a process of censoring and self-censoring or by just being caught up in the patriotic fervour of the times. It is impossible to imagine the media giving any support at all for the enemy. Bad news was often downplayed, or omitted altogether. For instance, the official death toll of the Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1942 was 17 when the real figure was over 200. During World War II, when the nation was directly threatened, we were in an emergency government with various government controls including petrol rationing.

With the coronavirus pandemic we have seen some similar responses from governments, with State government lockdowns and attempts to keep up with, and ahead of, the rapidly evolving public health crisis, although the response of the Federal government in the vaccination rollout and in quarantine has been tardy. Inevitably, this has led to restrictions on business and on individual behaviour. As in wartime, the pandemic is an immediate and recognisable threat to life and here governments have adopted an approach of following the best science.

Unlike war, during the coronavirus parts of the media have publicised and even promoted articles and ideas of vested interests (some business lobbies) and those opposed to the best science (the anti-vaxxers*). Amongst those doing so have been a ‘fat cat’ who has his own political party, a number of political commentators on Sky News and demonstrators in our capital cities. Such actions are unthinkable in a wartime situation. At the very least, these individuals would have been prevented from pursuing their agendas in the media – at worst they would be in jail and their organisations banned or prohibited. Since these activities result in the deaths of citizens, their actions are criminal. Another media aspect of the pandemic has been the massive advertising campaigns of governments, perhaps necessary considering prominence given to those opposing best science.

Unlike the previous emergencies, the climate emergency lacks urgency – at least in the media. This involves a number of factors that at first hand do not appear directly attributable to a warming planet – beyond the obvious heatwaves. The climate influence on extreme weather events currently wracking the northern hemisphere, including floods, drought, and bushfires, is less obvious. But the science has been in for many decades and worsening extreme weather events will force governments eventually to adopt a wide range of emergency actions. These will include massive advertising campaigns in science education and control and direction of the media.

*including at least 2 members of Federal Parliament