This pandemic is an event of a scale, duration and consequence that makes it a unique challenge for media organisations such as The Age to cover. Along with the public’s intense interest in all things COVID-19 has come an equal degree of scrutiny of how this story is being covered. In a liberal democratic society that values a free press, that is as it should be.
Since COVID-19 took hold, Age reporters have given a voice to thousands of people from Premier Daniel Andrews, whose daily briefings are attracting a wide audience, to health workers, scientists, business leaders, students, shop owners and everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances, in an effort to provide information and reflect the enormous impact on our lives.
With so much disruption, such voices are also highlighting much greater levels of anxiety, criticism and even anger. And with governments playing such a comprehensive role in directing and managing the disruption, many people’s frustration is being directed at perceived mistakes and shortcomings of the COVID-19 response – the hotel quarantine debacle being the most obvious.
But is this time for such criticism? There is a sincere belief from some that, to use Daniel Andrews’ bushfire analogy, when the fire is burning, the focus should be on extinguishing the blaze, and not attacking those fighting the fire. Is the scrutiny of the government too harsh?