Politics Steered India's Defense To Virus Threat 印度疫情肆虐 政治掛帥是主因
文/Karan Deep Singh
The forecast was mathematically based, government-approved and deeply, tragically wrong.
In September 2020, eight months before a deadly COVID-19 second wave struck India, government-appointed scientists downplayed the possibility of a new outbreak. Previous infections and early lockdown efforts had tamed the spread, the scientists wrote in a study that was widely covered by the Indian news media after it was released last year.
The results dovetailed neatly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's two main goals: Restart India's stricken economy and kick off campaigning for his party in state elections that spring. But Anup Agarwal, a physician then working for India's top science agency, which reviewed and published the study, worried that its conclusions would lull the country into a false sense of security.
Agarwal took his concerns to the agency's top official in October. The response: He and another concerned scientist were reprimanded.
In the wake of the devastating second wave, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, many in India are asking how Modi's government missed the warning signs. Part of the answer is that senior officials forced scientists at elite institutions to downplay the threat to prioritize Modi's political goals.
"Science thrives in an environment where you can openly question evidence and discuss it dispassionately and objectively," said Shahid Jameel, one of India's top virus experts and a former government adviser who has been critical of the agency.
"That, sadly, at so many levels, has been missing," he said.
India is hardly the first country where virus science has become politicized. The United States remains far short of taming the disease as politicians and anti-vaccine activists, fueled by disinformation and credulous media, challenge the scientific consensus on vaccines and wearing masks. The Chinese government has tried to obscure the outbreak's origin, and vaccine skeptics have won audiences from Russia to Spain to Tanzania.
Fox-Style News Network Rides Wave of Discontent in France 法國版福斯新聞 4年躍居收視龍頭
It's the news network that claims it tells viewers what the "woke" mainstream media won't. It says it fights for endangered freedom of expression, even as it has been fined by the government's broadcast regulator for inciting racial hatred.
It is CNews — which in four short years became France's No. 1 news network for the first time in May by giving a bullhorn to far-right politicians, opponents of fighting climate change and a high-profile proponent of the discredited idea of using the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19.
The model is Fox News — including the clashing talking heads and incendiary cultural topics — and it has worked. Owned by French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, former chairman of the media group Vivendi, CNews increasingly helps shape the national debate, especially on hot-button issues like crime, immigration and Islam's place in France that are expected to sway next year's presidential election.
In a country where trust in the media is very low, CNews emerged at a time of particular discontent — in the aftermath of the Yellow Vest protests of 2018, which, like the U.S. election of Donald Trump, prompted much soul-searching among journalists.
"People were sick and tired of the politically correct, and, in France, for the past 30, 40 years, news was in the hands of newspapers, television and dailies that all said the same thing," said Serge Nedjar, the head of CNews, explaining how his channel positioned itself in a nation with four all-news networks.
Unlike its competitors, CNews focused on "analyses and debates" of topics that Nedjar said mattered most to the French but had been ignored or insufficiently covered by the media: "crime, lack of safety, immigration."
But critics say the problem is not with CNews' choice of topics but with the way it treats them. They say its emphasis on opinion, often backed up with little reporting or fact-checking, propagates popular biases and deepens cleavages in a polarized society.