black lives matter protesters
(Image: AAP/James Gourley)

We in the media need to do better. If you’ve read news about race, the climate or any of the other big issue of the day, you’ll know this is the understatement of the decade. 

The way some of us have tried, despite all of the mounting evidence to the contrary, to tie recent Black Lives Matter protests to the latest COVID-19 outbreak is shameful. 

While I could outline the myriad ways in which this connection is a lie, my biggest issue is the cavalier attitude some media professionals have taken to the damage they do in publishing inflammatory headlines and feeding racist narratives.

Two examples of this are The Australian’s “Black Lives Matter protest linked to tower cluster”, and Sky News’ “Coronavirus outbreak in Vic public housing linked to Black Lives Matter protests”.  

Headlines (which media consumers don’t always read past) that say the protests are linked to a surge of the virus are aiming to discredit and dismiss the argument for racial justice. It’s just that simple. 

You cannot write these things and wash your hands of the results like Pontius Pilate. The day these headlines were published, Facebook and Twitter were flooded with people doing just what I described — dismissing the fight for racial justice.

The common refrain from the media is that it’s not our responsibility if people don’t read past the headline. Well I think it is. We aren’t Pontious Pilate, we are Judas. 

We know better. We know what happens when we write things that are patently untrue. People use them to hurt the vulnerable among us. 

I despise the fact that this still needs to be said — and it’s already been said by others many times over — but here’s why it’s a lie to link the protests to any coronavirus clusters. 

The only cases that can be linked to the protests are six people who attended the protests but did not acquire the virus there or transmit it to anyone. The health department has said this. The Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton expressed scepticism about the link. 

It is now nearly six weeks from the protests. The disease has an incubation period of 14 days and is highly contagious. If it had happened, we would have known by now. To continue to try to make this connection is absurd. The protests are so far in the past that they should no longer be mentioned while discussing new coronavirus infections.

On top of this, the suggestion that Black Lives Matter caused some shift in the minds of Melburnians causing them to flaunt restrictions is similarly ridiculous. 

There were protests in nearly every city, but not outbreaks. The rules were being broken before the protests, you and I know it — it’s taken a concerted effort to get people to wear masks despite triple-digit increases in cases each day. 

So this idea can be easily discarded too.

I think those writing and publishing these headlines and articles need to ask themselves why they feel so threatened by Black/Blak people calling for racial justice that they cling to any opportunity to make efforts seem dangerous and misguided. 

They need to ask themselves why writing inflammatory headlines and articles that generate huge interest over at best tenuous links is worth the damage it does to these movements.

And if they don’t think this applies to them, how do they feel having their name held against something used to perpetuate a racist narrative? I know how it would make me feel. 

Jim Malo is an African-Australian journalist currently writing for Domain. 

Peter Fray

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