Sunday, 19 July 2009

Reporting on swine flu in Australia, where it is now winter, seems a little basic. More information is needed. In major metropolitan centres, where most of the country's broadsheets operate, stories have to compete for space and exposure against a large number of others.

In regional areas there may be more room for more details to emerge.

Thirty-one people have now died in Australia from swine flu. But information about the demographics of the death count is scant. We have been told repeatedly that younger people are more likely to contract the disease. There are also over 190 people in hospital, in Australia, after contracting swine flu.

These things we know. But what about those "underlying health conditions" that we're repeatedly told are a major factor contributing to deaths from swine flu? What kind of 'conditions' are we talking about? Why are we not getting more information?

Perhaps if someone died on the Sunshine Coast, where I now live, we'd get more details.

In a recent story that follows up on an earlier story about a swine flu case reported at a local childcare centre, we're told that staff were told "in a threatening manner ... not to say a word to parents about the swine flu case".

The story caused a storm here. The childcare centre, operated by ABC Learning, rejected the media claims. However, in today's story, the claims are reiterated by another staff member.

Rowan Webb, the chief executive officer of ABC Learning, said in a statement the company rejected claims made in yesterday’s Daily that staff at the centre had been barred from telling parents of the swine flu case.

However, another source came forward yesterday confirming the claims.

“We were told in a threatening manner by the director of our centre we were not to say a word to parents about the swine flu case,” she said.

“All of the staff were disgusted with the decision and when we tried to voice our concerns for the children in our care and their parents we were told the decision was final – that was the way it was.”

This kind of coverage is unusual. It is mostly found, I suggest, in regional areas where there is more room in the news agenda for in-depth reporting of serious incidents. A month ago, when I first moved here, there was the case of a staff member at a major local hospital having contracted the disease. Huge headlines blanketed the tabloid's front page as the news spread, and stayed there for many days.

If all news is local, a major national story hitting in a local area will be latched onto by the local press and dragged, kicking and screaming, onto the kitchen tables of the populace.

And I suggest that it's a good thing.

Today also saw another type of national scandal with a particular relation to the local press. A Sunshine Coast Daily story about a proposed hospital development, printed half a decade ago, caused the state leader to report misconduct to the relevant authorities. Their subsequent digging into the personal activities of the health minister resulted in his conviction of accepting illegal commissions from two Queensland businessmen. He will serve at least two and a half years in prison.

All due to dogged efforts to achieve accuracy and comprehensiveness by a regional journalist.


Anonymous said...

Good questions about Swine Flu Dean...why aren't we indeed.

And Sunshine Coast? Oh, I have happy memories of childhood holidays up I'm in cooler climes in the nation's capital.

Neil said...

I imagine the underlying conditions are any that have already compromised the immune system, or pre-existing lung problems.

Shocking behaviour by that ABC Learning Centre.

Matthew da Silva said...

whispering - it's alovely area. so convenient and clean.

neil - yes i also assume that these are the reasons for the need for hospitalisation or in case of death, but don't you think they should tell us more. how about a map with dots?