Claire Fox

This is no time for ‘gotcha!’ journalism

The lockdown has ensured that many millions now gather round the TV and watch the daily press conference from No.10. We hang on every word from politicians and medical/scientific experts, trying to read the runes of our fate for the next hours, days, months. These people are leading the country’s response to Covid-19.

A third group in the room (be that virtually), whose leadership should be indispensable, are the press, charged with asking penetrating, crucial questions on our behalf. This should be when the nation feels the latest strategy is being held to account and scrutinised, when more light is shone on controversial decisions that affect our livelihoods and liberty, even life and death. The media are so key in a national emergency, especially when opposition parties in the UK are – let us say – largely in disarray, even leaderless. That’s even more true with parliament in recess.

And yet many of us watching end up groaning or swearing in disbelief that the journalists seem more intent on playing ‘gotcha!’ than digging deeper.

The present dissatisfaction in the media was brought home to me in reaction to its response to the news that Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty are all self-isolating after either testing positive, or showing symptoms, for Covid-19. One broadcast journalist asked if the PM had been negligent in catching the virus. I tweeted in exasperation, asking if journos had noticed that this was a highly contagious virus. I wondered if politicians hiding away from the country and refusing to leave their home would have been more negligent. The tweet went viral and almost all the replies were cries of despair at journalistic standards, not political ineptitude.

Reading the replies to this tweet, and comments across social media, it has become obvious that many people are exasperated that the media are squandering their privileged position as inquisitors on behalf of the public.

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