JOHN TAN. Covid-19, news media: Not enough questions.

Crisis; a virus-threat. These are causes of great concern, but not an excuse for lack of curiosity in the news media.

The last 20 years have witnessed many crises declared by authoritarian-leaning governments; a series of wars on everything from terrorists everywhere in the world to bikie gangs, paedophiles and fake news. And mistakes have been made because those we trust to inform and represent us failed to ask enough questions.

There are threats everywhere, at home and abroad, to our security, our way of life, our liberal democracy. In that time, a series of laws and security practices have been rolled out with no sunset clauses. These can be implemented in future whenever a government declares an emergency.

Transparency has disappeared. Leaders now believe they do not need to answer difficult questions.

Whistleblowers are in great danger.

The news media has been bought out or bullied into submission.

Seventy years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and every attempt to have a charter has been scotched.

There is a supposed implied right to free speech in the Constitution, but that won’t prevent being fired if a worker says something even in private that the employer doesn’t like.

Inequality, in wealth, in income, in power, in work security, grows exponentially. The 1% of the 1% grow ever stronger.

No worries, no problems. Australia is performing well, those who know best say.

And then, there’s the virus.

Why does the government not recommend wearing masks when they have been effective in slowing spread elsewhere?

The same question for not using CT scans when they have been shown to work elsewhere.

Doesn’t this virus war demand that every possible available tool should be enlisted?

The rollout of the tracing app is another mystery. It’s been said to be “based on” the Singapore app, which incidentally has not prevented a major new surge there.

It’s been said to be written by a combination of official and private interests. Who are these interests? Are they domestic or foreign companies and agencies?

Past the crisis, can it be completely uninstalled by the user or only by the government? After deletion, will there be an invisible residue that can serve as a backdoor?

Why has the news media not asked more questions of the many IT experts who have said they will not install it?

Can the app’s use of bluetooth, which is a well-known security back door, be disabled by the user at home, or is it always on?

Could there be a day when the bluetooth feature will be used to screen access to buildings and other public areas? Could “contact tracing” become a permanent national security feature?

(John Tan was a deputy editor in the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore. He has been foreign editor and business editor.)


John Tan was a deputy editor in the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore. He has been foreign editor and business editor.

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2 Responses to JOHN TAN. Covid-19, news media: Not enough questions.

  1. Avatar Tony King says:

    Thank you John Tan for raising an issue I’ve been uneasy about since this contact tracing app was first announced. The app may well be benign, and voluntary, and may be used only for the purpose stated. But it’s definitely being oversold as some sort of panacea, which it can never be. And of greatest concern, what about the app(s) that follow it (or what it might morph into in future updates)? How long before proximity sensing apps become less benign? Before installation becomes something other than voluntary? Before access to some areas becomes conditional on having it installed and running? If you think this might be a bit paranoid and far fetched, see this from the Kuringai Chamber of Commerce.

    “Dear Business Owner

    Re Covidsafe app

    Yesterday you received an email suggesting that you do not permit entry to your business to someone that has not downloaded the covidsafe app.

    From feedback I received , I have hunted down the document that regulates the use of this app.

    Here is the link

    It is a Determination made by the Minister of Health.

    It says at the end that a person is not to coerce the use of the app in any way. The determination heading includes the words Emergency Requirements. This determination hardly makes the use of the app a requirement and certainly does not solve the Covid-19 emergency.

    The Minister of Health thus has wimped out on his duty to protect the population.

    In fact he should have ordered Apple and Android to compulsorily down load the app to all phones in Australia.

    To quote Peter Fitzsimons in the Sun Herald as Barnaby Joyce is against the app then “Barnaby is usually so wrong”. The government forced businesses to close and even had the police chase sunbathers down the beach. They should be using the same force to open up again.

    Except for the 83 Australians that have sadly died from the virus, business and its employees have borne the brunt of the fight against the virus.
    It is now time to help businesses to open and the covidsafe app is our best tool. The government says that they need 40% take up to make it a success. That is 10 million out of a population of about 25 million. 2 million have already downloaded the app in a day.
    Business needs to encourage (rather than coerce) another 8 million to download the app so that we can open our businesses again and start employing the over 1 million Australians that were thrown out of work.

    Get the app and lets get back to business

    Yours sincerely,

    Peter Vickers BSc BEc FCA

  2. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    I could not agree more.
    OK, there is a new bug of obscure origins going around, and a response is called for.
    Fair enough.
    But, some of these responses seem altogether too convenient, too off-the-shelf ready, too vague as to purpose and extent.
    And on the subject of this bug’s obscure origins, there seems to be a big blame game starting. This is neither helpful nor reassuring.
    “Trust me. I’m the government.” The trouble is, I don’t. Your form, Mr. Government, is not trustworthy. Put simply, I feel I’m being hustled. I smell a con.

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