I think I would call myself a headline addict.
Addict, to indicate that there are points where my scrolling through headlines has become mindless. Not a search of the latest, greatest and most important, but a habit of opening the news app as an in-betweener. In between classes, for instance. At a stage, in between sets. In between stages of sleep at 3am.
With coronavirus killing people and infecting more each day, most headlines are dominated by its effects, the scientific advances to address it, or the politics and economics surrounding it.
But I can't help but wonder: exactly what was on headlines before this?
If I compare all the political and economic analyses I was consuming before this, they suddenly seem to stark and irrelevant. Perhaps I am falling into a habit of lazy thinking: everything has context. Coronavirus dominates headlines because it affects us all and so we need to know about it. In the world pre-corona, there were other changes that affected us all, and for the framework of government and transparency to be applicable, we had to know about it.
Still, though, the question does not escape me.
From the time I was introduced to the glorious newspaper (and started taking it seriously), it has been 5 years. And previously, where I would have said that they have been 5 years of education and enlightenment, I somehow feel that it has simultaneously been 5 years of propaganda and political gossip, some of which is still prevalent in the headlines of today. Take, for instance, the analysis in news24:
‘For health minister Zweli Mkhize, defeating coronavirus could mean redemption’
Or, Candace Owen’s ‘red scare’ tweets:
I fail to understand how it is possible that a pandemic is still a political game. One would assume that those in power have at heart the best interests of the people they serve (I deliberately avoid the word rule), and while it is unproven that South Africa’s health minister is actually playing politics in the age of pandemic, I struggle to understand how the notion is relevant. Don’t get me wrong: we do need insights and thought-provoking articles on the changing nature of societal opinion and politicians, but I wonder exactly how much space these actually need to take up. It is surprising that since I've started following the coverage on Coronavirus that I've heard of the Middle East very few times: I've heard that Iran is now asking for funding from the International Monetary Fund due to rising deaths, that there's been a call for a ceasefire in Yemen, and... that there has been a call for a ceasefire in Yemen.
We all choose which content we consume and why, so I suppose that if I went out hunting for headlines that covered these countries, I would find them. But I highlight them for a particular reason: they've suffered years of civil war that have had numerous interventions from the West, and alongside many other developing countries, stand to take the biggest hit from this pandemic.
It boggles my mind that there are families in refugee camps still looking for better lives, in the persuit of a life free from violence and neglect, yet I don’t hear about them much amidst the Coronavirus coverage. I’ll admit that I was one of the first people to put it on my social media when Prince Charles and Boris Johnson both tested positive for coronavirus, and while it is shocking that these leaders could have lost their lives to the virus and left a power vacuum in the UK at such a crucial time, there are, equally, people whose struggle needs to be acknowledged so that they can be helped. And I wonder if we have heard of those as much as we have watched President Trump and WHO’s Director General play a political ping pong match to see who's 'China Centric' and who is politiciser of the virus in chief.
As Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of NY points out: we have to ask ourselves why the poor always pay the highest price, and we have to ask ourselves why people of colour are having the worst health outcomes at this time. Substitute ‘people of colour’ for ‘oppressed population’ or ‘previously oppressed population’ and the question still stands.
For the first time, amidst the noise of publications clambering on top of other publications to break the news first or deliver the most unbiased (while secretly partisan) analyses, I’m seeing people hold leaders to account. Not only in tabloids, but on accessible social media channels. People have direct access to immunologists and virologists galore on twitter, and are beginning to question the actions of their leaders. In South Africa, a country with a history of inequality before the law although the new constitution says the opposite, the minister of communications had her salary suspended for breaking the lockdown rules: a sigh of relief amongst South Africans, compared to the endless commissions of Inquiry that have been set up to investigate corrupt leaders but have materialized in zero criminal charges.
And so, tonight when I scroll through the new channels endlessly (it seems that has become a full time occupation), I will perhaps have an answer as to why they are no longer as engaging as before: because I am trying to avoid the possibility that all this time I may have been consuming content which, in the greater scheme of things, didn't even matter.
I hope, that when this pandemic is over, that headlines change. I hope they are in persuit of information, knowledge, truth, and hope, and not sales or sensationalisation. And I hope that the political game changes to: I hope that we worry less about who wants to manuvere into what pivotal position and more about how we can use whatever power or priviledge we have to help those who don't have much.
And above all, I hope the way we percieve a certain peice of information, misinformation, and even the absense of information, changes.