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The Untold Stories behind COVID-19
Palestinian journalists in protective gear cover the news in Gaza City on March 27, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Untold Stories behind COVID-19

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20

Last week, media outlets around Saudi Arabia published information from the spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Lt. Col. Talal Al-Shalhoub, who stated that 3,334 curfew violations had occurred in the country in one single day, on Friday, May 15! Despite its importance, this news was met with apathy by most outlets, viewers and readers. It was treated as an abstract number, without any attempt to analyze or understand the story behind the figure. Not a single newspaper or news channel in the kingdom stopped to ask: Why do people commit such a high number of violations? Are they not bound by social distancing regulations? Is this due to their disrespect for the law and the authorities? Or is it, rather, a fundamental misunderstanding of the health risks associated with COVID-19? Better yet, is it just blatant ignorance or stupidity? The prevalence of psychological distress that pushes people out of their homes? This example begs an ever more important question: What is the role of the media? Isn’t the media supposed to go beyond merely repeating the statements of official spokespersons in an effort to examine the motivation that guides people’s actions? A journalist is expected to be more than a mere mouthpiece for government agencies. He or she can ask pointed questions, interview witnesses, triangulate information and bring the stories behind the dry headlines. It is this kind of journalistic investigation that allows stories to grow beyond simple news monitoring. For example, in March, the Ministry of Commerce asked citizens to report businesses that exploited the coronavirus crisis by disproportionately raising the prices of goods. News agencies picked up on this policy and reported it on their evening news. However, several journalists went beyond simply reporting the directive. They conducted field investigations and compared how the prices of 20 basic food items changed throughout the pandemic. They tested whether these changes could be explained given the fact that some goods were imported while others were produced locally. Any by publishing their report, they were able not only to bring the issue of price gouging to the public’s attention, but also to eliminate fraud where it took place. Journalism goes beyond simply reporting dry facts, especially at a time of a crisis like the one we’re experiencing. It is about bringing the stories behind the headlines and making a positive impact on people’s lives. – Hassan Al-Mustafa (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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