By Rue Lucy Chivasa
The media plays a vital role in the dissemination of information. Media has the power to create reality, the media also form existing social reality by gradually shaping public opinion, personal beliefs and even people’s self-perceptions.
The media influences the process of socialisation and shapes ideology and thinking. During the Covid 19 and the Monkey pox pandemic the media played a vital role in shaping opinions and disseminating information.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese and Asian communities faced violence, harassment and discrimination on top of the threat of the virus itself. China was blamed for the virus with terms such as “Wuhan virus,” “kung flu” used by people who were in positions of authority like Donald Trump. This was captured repeatedly in the media.
According to a University of Kansas (K.U) study which focused on 451 news articles from The New York Times, The Guardian and China Daily, chosen for their large readership and for their different international perspectives in COVID-19 coverage during 2020, the first year of the pandemic. The findings showed that media is very influential in shaping how the public thinks about issues and that care should be taken in cases of naming diseases or threats after regions or people or ethnicities.
The study titled a “pandemic” of hate examined keywords such as ‘China virus,’ how media represented them and how media constructed these different terms in talking about COVID-19, racism and xenophobia against Chinese and Asian communities in the West said Muhammad Ittefaq, a doctoral candidate in journalism & mass communications at KU and lead author of the study.
The study revealed that “There was more than a 150 percent increase in cases of assault, either verbal or physical attacks on Chinese or Asian people on the streets, in stores and everywhere. That piqued our interest to understand how media were using these terms in relation to the racism and xenophobia and how different newspapers are overall constructing the pandemic.”
The New York Times and The Guardian portrayed the virus as a threat while , China Daily featured the sentiments of its government. The findings were somewhat expected, as the Western publications reflect Western culture of journalism and China Daily, though an English-language publication, is largely a mirror of the Chinese State, even though it is independently operated the researchers said.
While pushing an agenda the media can also fuel hate speech. It has happened in the past, with “Ebola virus” and the “Spanish flu”. Even when media is merely reporting the words of prominent politicians or leaders who use xenophobic terms, it influences and shapes global discourse on a topic, thereby potentially leading to or reinforcing discrimination, violence and harassment.
Currently the world is in the midst of a monkeypox outbreak. The World Health Organization has recorded more than 500 cases in 30 countries this year – including the United Kingdom, the United States and a number of European nations.
The Western media outlets are illustrating the story in a way that would appear like monkey pox originated from Africa. The BBC, the Independent, CNBC and ABC News are among those that have used a stock photo of a Black person with monkeypox blisters. The media coverage echoes media reporting following the outbreak in Nigeria in 2017. A story from the publication “Voice from Europe” described the first case of monkeypox in England in 2018 as a “horrible Nigerian disease called monkeypox spreads in the United Kingdom for the first time.”
The message would be Blame Africa for monkeypox.
Global media builds an opinion, and create a mental presence and media is used to cement the ideas of the elite and push their agenda as they control the media.