14 May 2020

Fake, fatigued and fed up: what we really think about COVID-19 coverage

| Michael Weaver
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ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, ministers and health officials

Sixty-six per cent of respondents said they trusted government information about COVID-19. Photo: Region Media.

COVID-19 has been dominating the news for months, but how do you know the information you are receiving comes from a reliable and up-to-date source?

A new report from the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra has found there has been a surge in news consumption, with 71 per cent of respondents saying they’re reading and watching more news since the pandemic started.

The survey found this has driven the way news of the pandemic has been reported, with a nine-fold increase in the number of fact-checks related to COVID-19 between January and the end of March.

A separate study into the spread of misinformation found that most of the fake news (88 per cent) appeared on social media.

The full report, COVID-19: Australian news and misinformation, also found that 60 per cent of those surveyed are either very or extremely concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak.

At the same time, the report found that Australians are tired of news about COVID-19 and are avoiding it due to news fatigue. Just over half of the respondents (52 per cent) said they’re tired of hearing about COVID-19 and 46 per cent say they find the news coverage overwhelming.

UC researchers surveyed 2,196 Australians aged 18 and older to find out how and where they were getting information about COVID-19, which sources they found trustworthy and what impact the intense news coverage has on their wellbeing.

Lead author Associate Professor in Communication Dr Sora Park says the news coverage is affecting people’s wellbeing.

“We found that while news about the coronavirus provides an important topic of conversation, it is also making 52 per cent of respondents feel more anxious,” said Dr Park.

“Women are more likely to feel an increase in anxiety because of COVID-19 news than men, and compared to older generations, while Gen Y and Gen Z are more likely to say news about the coronavirus makes them feel more anxious.”

As sources of information about the coronavirus, the report found that Australians trust scientists and health experts the most (85 per cent), followed by the government (66 per cent) and news (53 per cent).

Graph showing sources of news and information about COVID-19

Source of news and information about COVID-19. Image: UC.

As digital and social media sources of news continue to become increasingly popular, the study says it has become more important to understand how audiences react to global health and economic crises. Of particular concern is the interaction between misinformation and the formation of public opinion and public policy.

“The loss of reliable local news is being compounded by the rise of misinformation about the coronavirus,” the report says.

“In February, the World Health Organization declared an ‘infodemic’, reflecting their concern that audiences were being exposed to an over-abundance of both accurate information and misinformation about the coronavirus, making it difficult to determine trustworthy and authentic medical advice.

“Many are aware of and are particularly concerned about the consequences of misinformation.”

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) have also launched a separate national survey to find out what the public knows about COVID-19 and to help improve health guidance.

Dr Tambri Housen of the ANU’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health said the survey will help Australians through the coronavirus “information pandemic”.

Dr Housen has created the survey to get an understanding of what gaps exist in public communication and stop the spread of ‘fake news’.

“We want to make sure that people receive the correct information so they can make informed decisions about how to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19,” Dr Housen said.

“There is an overwhelming amount of information about coronavirus and a lot of it is helping spread misinformation, which leaves the population at greater risk.

“The survey will help us grasp what gaps exist in public communications, as well as correct any misinformation.”

Information from the survey will be used by the Australian Department of Health and other agencies to correct misinformation, target more effective public messaging aimed at reducing the anxiety associated with COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to know what people understand and believe about COVID-19 to improve risk messaging,” Dr Housen said.

“This study will help us produce the most comprehensive and accurate data sets of community understanding at all stages of COVID-19.”

Due to the everchanging situation, three surveys will be released to track changing conditions. The first of the voluntary surveys, accessed via the ANU website, takes about 20-25 minutes to complete and closes on 31 May.

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I usually listen to the radio for my news about COVID-19, otherwise I look at unbiased quality journalism in the Daily Telegraph. I buy the Telegraph mainly for the pictures because years ago when we still bought The Canberra Times, that newspaper was full of articles and letters promoting refugees, foreign pap, animal liberation, climate change and other left wing and Greens causes.

I’ve noticed a lot of fake news and scaremongering lately. Tut-tutting pictures of shopping malls and beaches with no “social distancing” (gasp!). Also the nonsense about a so-called “second wave” now that the restrictions are being lifted. Hopefully once we put all this behind us and get back to normal again, lessons will be learned and the public will be more questioning about what they are seeing in certain sections of the media.

The media is milking the panpanic for all its worth. Notice how some media is critical of any relaxations of restrictions. Catastrophic bush fires, devastating floods and global pandemics should not be wasted if you are a media baron.

We are now in the re-opening theatre.

We need a focus on the data showing the actual risk to different age/health cohorts.

Continuing to chase clickbait about this is not a viable strategy for media.

HiddenDragon7:26 pm 14 May 20

“….the report found that Australians are tired of news about COVID-19 and are avoiding it due to news fatigue….”

Unfortunate, but hardly surprising, with too many politicians apparently labouring under the delusion that the public loves nothing more than watching/listening to them droning on in long-winded media appearances, in which crucial details about the virus can easily be lost amongst the waffle and, at times, the over-emoting about fatalities.

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