Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The media versus Swine Flu equals great sales!

Some quotes from news organisations from around the world when this story broke last weekend....all within 12 hours of the WHO press release.

"...a fast moving new new form of the flu...and at this stage the death toll is rising"
"...are we on the path to a pandemic?"
"...the highly contagious disease may already be in Europe."
"...any indication this may have been caused by bio-terrorism?"
"...swine flu could wipe out tens of millions of people if it isn't stopped."

These case are all from American networks however even here in NZ, we have our own cases of hype. TVNZ's Wendy Petrie has been constantly talking about the 'deadly virus' and the 'killer virus', yet all the stories in the piece introduced by her referred to "suspected cases."

This deadly virus hasn't caused and issues for those outside Mexico, in fact our own health minister, Tony Ryall, from day one has said that the infected NZ people were 'doing well' and had 'very minor' symptoms. The headlines are telling us to freak out, but the people with the information are telling us not to.

But people were scared. Within 12 hours of these stories Petra and I did talk back on it and asked the question, is this a media beat up?

From a texter
"Pat you say u don't want to belittle the swine flu but u are! Wake up, when your child dies then your tune [will change]."

From callers

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

On Monday, in NZ, face masks flew off the shelves of chemists, and the Healthline had over 1600 calls specifically around Swine flu. Countries are issuing travel warnings about NZ, the A1GP has been cancelled in Mexico, Canada has cancelled all flights to South America....what the hell is going on?

So how deadly is this 'killer virus'. Well in Mexico 3% of deaths are attributed to pneumonia or influenza, that means annually between 15,000 and 20,000 people die from influenza. In the USA around 35,000 people die annually from it. From day one, not one headline said "SWINE FLU!!! Not that much more deadly that 'every year' flu"...I guess that wouldn't sell papers.

Here's the beef, it would appear at the moment this has been another beat up, like Ebola, SARS and Bird Flu before, not anywhere near as dangerous as the first BREAKING NEWS headlines told us...but...if it was the big once-in-a-lifetime can we trust what the media says? How will we know next time that bird or swine or cow or rooster flu turns up....that we can trust what they are saying?

Here's the kicker. We've been the many people have died in Mexico. Well the latest WHO report has just come out...remember the first one warned of a world pandemic of a deadly they started the hype, how many have died???


That's right, 7!!!!!!!

A WHO representative said today the agency had officially recorded only seven swine flu deaths around the world.

Reports have put the likely death toll from the virus at 152, with Mexican officials confirming 20 deaths. The number of cases under observation in Mexico alone has reportedly reached 1614.

But Vivienne Allan, from WHO's patient safety program, said the body had confirmed that worldwide there had been just seven deaths - all in Mexico - and 79 confirmed cases of the disease.

"That figure is not a figure that's come from the World Health Organisation and, I repeat, the death toll is seven and they are all from Mexico," Ms Allan told ABC Radio this morning.

My kingdom for some decent reporting, with some accurate facts and figures.