Is the media going overboard with H1N1 coverage? The National hosts a panel

Wendy Mesley recently hosted a panel discussion on The National about how the media handled coverage of H1N1.

The two panelists were Dr. Allison McGeer, a microbiologist and infectious disease consultant with the Department of Microbiology at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Dr. Richard Schabas, former Ontario chief medical officer of health (from 1987-1997) and current medical officer of health for the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit.

You can watch the full video (10:19) at The National‘s website.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the conversation:

“My single biggest criticism of the media is there has been a constant lack of trying to put the story in perspective, of trying to take a step backwards and saying yes, someone died, but remember people die actually all the time. How does this compare with the other threats?”

“We’re just reporting what public health officials are telling us.”

“I have a lot of sympathy with the media. I’m not letting the media off the hook totally, but the real villains of the piece here have been those public health officials who have consistently overplayed and overstated the importance of what is happening. By the time this is all said and done, this is not a major public health event. But you’d never know that from what some people are saying.”

Mesley aired a brief interview/conversation she had with CBC reporter Ioanna Roumeliotis earlier in the day. Roumeliotis covered the death of Mississauga teenager Evan Frustaglio, which led to a surge in demand for the H1N1 vaccine.

“So she’s [Roumeliotis] basically saying a reporter’s job is “just the facts ma’am.” We just reported the facts but there’s been accusations that we’ve covered it too much. Do you agree with Dr. Schabas that we went a bit overboard, everybody went a bit overboard on that?”

“I think on that story in particular, yes. Sure, you say you report the facts, but the truth of the matter is people make decisions about what goes on the front page, people make decisions on what goes with pictures and I have a lot of sympathy for the media with this story. It was a tremendous human interest story. It was irresistible to cover.”