Media unable to build govt credibility over vaccine scandal

By Sun Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-25 0:38:02

The scandalous circulation of $88 million of improperly stored vaccines to 18 Chinese provinces and regions has invited strong fear and backlash from the public. Consequently, many  wealthy families have even considered adding vaccines to their long list of things to get from overseas.

Apart from the deficiencies in the authorities' regulation and supervision over the vaccination system, the widening scandal has shown the absence of the media in figuring out the truth and providing crucial information to the public.

After the vaccine scandal was first disclosed, some media outlets dug out a 2013 report that told of the tragedies of families devastated by the adverse effects of normal vaccines. The report went viral online among nervous parents, and the miserable stories of these families considerably intensified people's anxiety and panic. In the latest scandal, vaccines that were not properly stored during redistribution may have been compromised, but the safety risk may be minimal as the World Health Organization responded to the lasted scandal. However, the particular timing of re-posting the 2013 report has prompted people to believe in the worst-case scenario and even become resistant toward  vaccinating their children.

The media should play its part in helping the authorities build up public trust and credibility with professional and responsible reporting. But, the poor performance in providing fully informative and timely reports by many official media outlets in the vaccine scandal has enabled some social media accounts to gain popularity with swift yet contradictory responses to public concerns. This has taught the Chinese media a good lesson about how to make progress.

Negative information is unavoidable. In the Internet era, publishing accurate information online is the best way to prevent inaccurate and exaggerated messages. Governments could have done a better job in guiding the media to quell the sweeping panic, but they choose the convenient way of putting harsh restrictions on media instead of seeking efficient interactions. As a result, when public scandal occurs, the media can hardly function to release the information and clarify the rumors. In the vaccine scandal, the authorities could have quickly organized media outlets to publish official information.

The role of the media has been misunderstood. The media's role of supervision doesn't jeopardize the governments' image, but helps build up their credibility. The latest vaccine scandal has challenged the media's duty and the media-government relationship. This has to be taken seriously and addressed promptly.

Posted in: Observer

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