Commentators and politicians have referred to this Coronavirus pandemic as a war. There is talk of taking similar financial actions with budgets and taxes as were taken in WWII. There is talk of the need to ‘pull together’ and to adopt behaviours for the sake of others and the country. But this enemy is invisible. Its outcomes are devastating but there is no ‘invader’, no external enemy we can gang up against.
And so, seeking someone or something to attack, we gang up against policies and actions taken by government, or scientists, health ministers or policy makers, demanding of them that they give us certainty and get it all right. Of course, we need to hold people to account but no-one gets it all right in warfare, whether the enemy is invisible or not, and when something so unexpected hits us the ‘science’ is unproven. People clutch at straws as to what is the correct course of action and whatever anyone does, it is criticised. Listening to this is disheartening.
Stress depletes our immune system and we have quite enough of it without the BBC reinforcing it. I, for one, can’t bear to listen to the Today programme these days, nor watch the BBC 10 o’clock news. It is just too depressing and not good for my mental health.
I don’t believe that this endless stream of pessimism and negativity helps to keep us, as a nation, healthy. It brings me to the conclusion that we would not win a war were we suddenly faced with one. We are too divided and too frightened. It is this fear that will, quite literally, potentially be the death of us. Our immune systems will be depleted, our mental health affected, and we shall, in one way or another, get both weaker and sicker. Somehow we have to find the will and determination to push through the fear and we need help in doing so.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the BBC is invaluable and there are some brilliant programmes, though I must admit that I do despair of their comedy programmes and surely they could have done better with The Archers?! It is their news and current affairs programmes that I question. During the Brexit negotiations all we ever heard, night after night, day after day, was Brexit Brexit Brexit. The rest of the world could have gone to hell in a handcart as it just didn’t get coverage. We have become more and more parochial and provincial.
Now, with the Covid crisis, we have been treated night after night to terrible scenes in ICU, haggard doctors, dying patients and on the Today programme more harrowing stories of tragedy.
These stories gave us few useful facts. The purpose seemed to be to stir our emotions. They did not encourage us to feel that we could fight this battle. They simply left us feeling powerless.
Even if there was good news, the journalist presenting a story would always go in for the kill and either play their usual cat-and-mouse game of trying to demonstrate that nothing in this country is working, or end what could have been a positive piece of news with some phrase such as “of course this is unlikely to work…”
Meanwhile the appalling attack in May by ISIS on the maternity ward run by MSF in Afghanistan hardly got a mention. Putin seemed able to hang on to power until 2036 with almost no comment, we hear a little about China, but the rest of the world may as well not exist.
I am not looking for propaganda, as we had in the war, but I am looking for balance, for there are many uplifting stories of survival and grit but they aren’t mentioned. What we get is one story after another that will ramp up fear and one story after another, in the wake of the George Floyd murder, that ramps up guilt, even within the young who had absolutely nothing to do with this murder, nor with the slave trade or Empire. All of this depletes immune systems and quite frankly the young have enough to cope with.
The health of the nation and the mental health of our young depends on balance. The purpose of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy is to help individuals see the facts, gain perspective and balance and work out the best, most rational and helpful way of managing difficult situations. That requires looking at any situation objectively and within its context, then challenging and changing distorted or unhelpful beliefs. What I observe is that journalists are not challenging distorted truths when they hear them.
It was probably understandable that the government used fear during the early days of the lockdown. “Stay home, stay safe, protect others and the NHS”. This sense of duty tinged with terror that our NHS wards would spill over with the sick, resulted in us protecting the NHS but we now realise that this was to the extent that we patients have not been protected against all the other everyday but also chronic and dangerous illnesses that we may experience, like stroke, cancer, heart disease, and more.
A public service broadcaster could surely take some responsibility for the morale and wellbeing of the nation it serves, not through propaganda but through factual rigour? I would expect a broader analysis of situations and events, a balance of historical perspective, some optimism in the midst of the pessimism. It certainly exists. It was not just the doctors on the front line whom we should applaud. So many workers have been keeping this country going – technology, power, heating, deliveries and food supplies, refuse, roads, pharmacies and so many more. Did we see them on the news? I didn’t.
You cannot win a war by bombarding people with terrible images and scaring them half to death because you deplete the reserves and defences of your people, leaving weakness through which the enemy can barge through. A polarised nation is not one who will have the cohesion or grit to win a war, whether it is against a visible or invisible enemy. The Putins of this world would lick their lips. The virus has its own strategies to attack the vulnerable.
In the light of a potential second wave, this is a call for a review of both the content and also the way news is presented. We are in a specific and threatening situation that is taking a very real toll on our emotional and physical resilience. There is no certainty and no end to the virus nor the economic consequences of lockdown. Surely we deserve and need to have broader perspective… and just a little glimmer of hope!