Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Flu pandemic: on journalistic discourse

Here’s a telling illustration of the way the news media uses language: a report on swine flu yesterday said that the virus “is feared to be the worst outbreak since the SARS pandemic failed to actualise in 2003.”

A pandemic that failed to actualise? I guess that’s on the same semantic level as a “non-actual death” or a “non-actual pregnancy”.

Come to think of it, this kind of language could come in very handy on your CV: “I have also written three books that never actualised – and one of them even received a non-actual book prize...”

16 Comments:

Ranger said...

Ranger,
SARS failed to actualize? I guess to the western media the 1000 or so deaths here in Asia weren't American and thus don't matter.

Greythought said...

Hope this isn't presumptuous, but amateur blogger here. No hits yet. Frustrated, me? Nope. Just sharing my thoughts.

http://littlemindbigthoughts.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

I guess the story could at last prove that pigs can now fly!

Actually we are quite lucky that SARS didnt get worse.

I recently read a book titled Pandemonium by Andrew Nikiforuk which, among other things has a very disturbing chapter on the origins of SARS, and consequently predictions that future pandemics will occur.

Robb said...

The media like to perpatuate the media. By spreading panic they sell papers and get viewing figures.

As mentioned, until it happens in "the west" most things aren't deemed to have actualised.

That said, in the grand scheme of things, there are many more people dying of AIDS but the initial hype from the 80's died down and people gave up on the spreading of mass hysteria. Exen with decent contraception it is still raveging the planet. As it is affecting Africa worst, it is something that the media can generally ignore...

http://xkcd.com/574/

Robb said...

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/04/27/bruce-sterling-expla.html

JM said...

I saw a book with a title something like "How to Survive Bird Flu" at a book store a couple months ago for 50 cents.

cynthia r. nielsen said...

Love it!

hopelens said...

Language is the threshold to meaning ... and thus to deception. Is this why we no longer teach grammar to our kids? So they can wallow in the morass of sound-bite influences? Ah, that sounds way too conspiratorial.

ellionsl said...

Such meticulous "word care"! It is no surprise, then, that the term "apocalypse" crept into the reportage in the UK - and in the Independent, one of our more responsible boradsheets! But such is contemporary journalism: panic is the oxygen of the media.

kim fabricius said...

Ooops - "word care" just bit my butt! ellionsl was the "word verification"!!

J. R. Miller said...

Every year in the US, 36,000 people die from the flue or flue related illness.

So far, in two weeks, only 48 people got sick (more than half from just one school in NY city,) and no one in the US under our health care system has died.

The President of the US shook hands with someone in Mexico who died the very next day from the swine flu, but the President is not sick...

so far, this is not exactly the mark of a virulent pandemic that will sweep the US.

Erin said...

I've always felt my sanctification failed to actualize.

J. R. Miller said...

BTW, the point in my first paragraph is that more people die each year from the "regular" flu, yet no one is calling it a pandemic... Why?

Anonymous said...

to mr miller
sir, are you joking?
i read this nonsense
the us president never ever came near anybody with swine flu in mexico
some 20 people,20 too much for sure,died in the whole of mexico,
and all in slums
please do not succumb to this media hype which is fuelled by big business
ben,thanks for the fabulous entry
btw+the figure about deaths from the flu and related diseases is also a fake, most of those folks are very old and frail and succumb to any disease in the witer months whatsoever, in order to sell vaccines their deaths are linked to influenza
kurt usar,md

J. R. Miller said...

Anonymous, in midst of your rant against statistics you don't like, you missed the point of my post. I am suggesting that there is no evidence that this swine flu is an epidemic or pandemic of any kind.

Evan said...

I just got this from my brother. Very handy way to tell whether you have swine flue. ;)

http://doihaveswineflu.org/

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