Less than a week ago few people had heard of swine flu. As events unfold I've been watching the media reaction to developments with great interest. First the debate about whether the impact of Twitter was dangerous in spreading misinformation. Then detailed analysis on how much this subject is being discussed on facebook. Now the debate about whether the media itself is fuelling fears.
Today the BBC published a very interesting blog from its editors, soul-searching whether they were handling this issue correctly. The BBC editors said the coverage and response to swine flu had challenged them to think about their public service role, which is to give people facts and confirm what is known and not known. But this blog also reports on the public's fear that the issue is being over-hyped. Despite a lot of early questions there is consumer sceptism about media reports. The BBC asks, "is the media utterly mistrusted"?
Sadly I think our instant news fuels that perception of hyping even if the media themselves are trying to complete their public service duties. Swine flu is a fast-moving risk and the global media has shone the spotlight on every aspect as the risk is analysed and develops.
If swine flu doesn't develop into a pandemic does the public feel manipulated? Will they say: "The risks predicted haven't matched the reality and it was a case of crying wolf". "We've heard people talking up the risk of pandemics before and nothing happened"
Or will the public be grateful for the open, transparent information from the media, the very public debate about issues and risks?
I for one, far prefer the latter and will subsequently be delighted if the reality doesn't match the potential risks. My plea to the media is to keep talking, keep providing us with facts in an honest straightforward way. It is a public service duty and one we all need.
BBC Editors' Blog