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

Apr 28, 2020

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.)

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