SARS as a moral panic?

Joi Ito questions the panic around SARS.

I have to say, I am perplexed also. It seems to me that 79 people worldwide is hardly something to get worked up about – maybe the threat of “biological weapons” and nasty viruses has our danger sensors on high alert?

Bit of perspective – UNICEF estimates that 12 million people die each year from malnutrition, poor water or other preventable causes. That’s 32876 people dying each day! But it won’t affect us here in the developed world, no-sir-eee. So we’re more worried about the 79 people that have died of SARS so far.

I have friends whose parents are sending them gloves and masks to travel home because they’re passing through Singapore. The airports here in Australia are setting up quarantine procedures and publicising them on TV.

I just don’t get it…

  • deaths caused by malnutrition and water conditions have existed for years… unfortunately these deaths are no longer a mystery to us. don’t get me wrong… i believe that the world should ALSO be concerned of these pre-existing situations. SARS on the other hand is something new to most us. prevention is still unknown and the cure is still vague. the Media has the power to inform people of the dangers of SARS and by letting the public know how to help prevent further contamination, SARS can be controlled before it gets out of hand.

  • Thanks for your comments Anna. I agree with you about the valid public interest perspective of reporting on SARS. From another perspective, there is also the fact that over 100 people have lost their lives to the illness, which is devastating to the family and friends of those who have died, and hospitalised many others. And the suppressing of this information by the authorities in some countries that is also of concern.

    My comment was not meant to argue against the public’s right to know about viruses such as SARS, or about the valid concern that a deadly virus that is still unknown should give rise to. My concern is the focus that the media places on the sensationalist aspects of such events, at the expense of a balanced perspective. And the reporting of SARS (at least here in Australia) seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

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