God, Ebola, postmodern journalism and Nigeria

The Ebola epidemic has produced mixed bag of reporting from the Western press. With 961 dead and almost 2000 cases reported in West Africa as of August 8, the deadly hemorrhagic fever has been covered in “on the spot”, “man in the street”, “news analysis” and science/health reports.

Some of the stories have been over the top and some quite good -- but few have looked at the epidemic from the point of view of those living in West Africa. The theme and tone of stories printed by The New York Times, for example, is American, secular and condescending. It presents the story through the filter of Western sensibilities and attitudes.  The religion angle to this story, when mentioned, is cast in post-Modernist or secularist terms: Africans are rubes who need guidance from America.

Criticism of the reporting on the “international health emergency” -- so described by the World health Organization -- has begun to appear.

The Washington Times ran an op-ed arguing that panic about the disease was more lethal than the disease, while in the web magazine Boulevard Voltaire French physician Michel Lacroix argued in “Ebola sera-t-il pire que la peste ou le cholera?” that the coverage has been overblown.

Le risque est donc important pour les soignants et l’entourage du malade, mais relativement faible pour le reste de la population, et en aucun cas comparable à la contagiosité du virus de la grippe, qui est heureusement moins dangereux mais cependant responsable, rappelons-le, de 3.000 à 5.000 morts par an en France.

The risk of infection is high for medical staff and people in the patient's immediate vicinity, but relatively low for the rest of the population. It's in no way comparable with the risk of catching the flu, which is far less dangerous but causes 3,000 to 5,000 deaths per year in France.

The first wave of Ebola stories were written as sports stories or melodramas, not science reports Boulevard Voltaire said. This was a disservice to readers.

Il faut aussi savoir analyser les données avec objectivité, et ne pas donner à ces événements une ampleur démesurée en surfant sur des peurs ancestrales, même si c’est un bon moyen d’accrocher le lecteur ou l’auditeur.
You have to be able to look at the data objectively and not make too much of things by playing on primitive fears, even if it's a great way to secure the public's attention.

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