The prurient headlines about Neil Ferguson are a huge distraction

Could the Main Stream Media in the UK be assisting the UK Government in misleading the public on the handling of covid-19?

On the 4th May 2020, Owen Jones reports and on the 6th May similar sentiments in RT News

Editors Note: In a world of swirling conspiracy theories this post brings together various threads that suggest misrepresentation of the UK governments handling of the covid-19 pandemic and that mainstream media either through naive acceptance or some form of complicit behaviour is allowing this misrepresentation to flourish. Included is Nils Melzer explaining that strong independent journalism is a basic pillar of democracy.

1. The prurient headlines about Neil Ferguson are a huge distraction (Owen Jones for The Guardian 4th May)

Britain’s coronavirus death rate is the worst in Europe, yet the front pages of our rightwing media focus on a scientist’s sex life

When deciding today’s front pages, newspapers had a choice: do they hold the government to account over Britain facing the highest death toll in Europe, or do they take aim at a government scientist, who ignored his own advice to the public, and invited a partner to his home? As you might have seen, the Telegraph, Daily Mail, Metro and the Sun opted for the latter. In a healthy, functioning democracy, a genuinely free press would not have considered this a dilemma. Bad news, everyone, because that’s not the country we live in.

This story could be seen as a run-of-the-mill scoop, a classic tale of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy, a staple of the British press. Or it could be perceived as a retaliatory hit by the political right who resent, to varying degrees of intensity, a lockdown that values human life over economic considerations.

This is where the Neil Ferguson saga raises troubling questions. This story somehow found its way to the Telegraph, a hawkishly pro-Conservative newspaper (and until recently the employer of the prime minister himself) more than a month after the event. Ferguson’s partner visited him on 30 March and 8 April: 37 and 28 days ago respectively. Whatever the reason for this delay, the story has certainly come at a politically opportune moment: when the government should be being scrutinised about a death toll exceeding that of Italy, whose plight just weeks ago was discussed in near-apocalyptic tones.

2. Burying bad news? Questions raised as scientist sex scandal eclipses news UK Covid-19 death toll surpasses Italy ( RT News 6th May)

As the Neil Ferguson scandal dominates headlines across the UK media, many online are questioning the rather conspicuous timing of the revelations, which coincide with grim and embarrassing news for the government.

The one-time UK coronavirus tsar Ferguson resigned in disgrace from his position as advisor and strategist to 10 Downing Street on Tuesday night amid revelations of a tryst with a married woman, 38-year-old Antonia Starts, which contravened his own proposed lockdown and social distancing measures. 

Eyebrows were raised over the questionable timing of the revelation, which coincided with the day that the UK officially overtook Italy as the epicenter of the coronavirus in Europe. 

Dr. Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organization, asked: “Why was this non-news released on the day our death rates overtook Italy? And before imminent decisions to lift the lockdown in the UK and US? Who else will be scapegoated?”

Ferguson’s perceived scapegoating was made even more conspicuous as lockdown measures are expected to begin scaling back in the coming weeks, something which Boris Johnson hinted at during a session in the House of Commons on Wednesday. 

Others highlighted yet more examples of the conspicuous timing of human interest stories eclipsing major coronavirus developments – including the birth of Boris Johnson’s son – though that may be more a case of British media’s editorial decision-making than governmental conspiracy. 

“Care Home deaths added to the death toll on the day Boris’s son is born – Govt waited for the right moment,” wrote one perturbed Twitter user. “On the day UK overtakes Italy in deaths, Neil Ferguson is scapegoated.” 

Some highlighted the fact that the Telegraph got the scoop on the Ferguson love affair as being rather convenient, given that Boris Johnson was once employed by the paper. 

Others outright accused the press of complicity with the government, insinuating the British media sat on the story for a month. For now at least, the one-time paragon of viral virtue has been hung out to dry, as the UK struggles to come to terms with its botched response to the pandemic.

3. Boris Johnson’s Coronavirus Lies Are Killing Britons (Sonia Faleiro for The Intercept May 1st)

When the first cases of Covid-19 in the U.K. were confirmed in late January, Johnson’s Conservative Party government claimed that it was prepared for any eventuality.

That turns out to have been a lie. The government’s failure to provide sufficient protective gear, which has so far contributed to the deaths of at least 114 health care workers in Britain, was  preventable. Moreover, two separate investigations have now revealed high-level attempts to cover it up.

Earlier this week, the BBC’s Panorama showed that the British government’s pandemic stockpile lacked key equipment, such as gowns, visors, swabs, and body bags. The government was of course aware of this deficit and yet, even after the pandemic hit the country’s shores, U.K. leaders refused multiple opportunities to bulk-buy PPE. When the lack of supplies became obvious to the public, the government tried to hide the problem by inflating PPE numbers, counting one pair of gloves as two items of PPE.

Another investigation, by the Sunday Times, a decidedly right-leaning newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch that has previously swooned over Johnson, calling him a “rockstar,” showed just how casually the prime minister confronted the pandemic.

4. Boris Johnson declares UK ‘past the peak’ as another 647 die from coronavirus (NBC News 1st May)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK is “past the peak” of its coronavirus outbreak and has promised a comprehensive plan for restarting the country’s flagging economy.

Mr Johnson, fronting his first daily press conference in more than a month after recovering from COVID-19, urged Britons to hold firm during the strict lockdown and not “risk a second spike” of the virus.

“I can confirm today that for the first time, we are past the peak of this disease,” Mr Johnson said from Downing Street.

Editors Addenda: Daily Recorded Infections charts sourced from John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre

UK Daily Recorded Infections – oscillates between 4K and 6K with a horizontal trend from 5th April to 7th May.

Italy Daily Recorded Infectionspeaks at 21st March reducing constantly from the peak of 6.6K per day to less than 1.5K at May 7th.

Editors Observations: The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is either confused by the statistics or attempting to deceiving the public when he says “we are past the peak” on the 1st May

5. Democracy cannot coexist with secrecy (Nil Melzer on RT News on Going Underground).