Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Local Media reporting of H5N1

The growing debate about H5N1 is now filtering down from the hallowed heights of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the British mortals who spend their days watching the EastEnders soap opera on TV, read the Sun and invest in a very successful British fish and chip industry.

One localised media outlet ran the story of a mother appealing to the Experts... and Mystic Meg... to reassure her about the safety of her children from H5N1. There is nothing better than to throw a frightened single mother together with a couple of toddlers and a baby to get a good newspaper selling story about H5N1. The story was complete with photos and the single mother looked hopelessly bewildered and vulnerable. Enter British Expert and Mystic Meg to save the day and round off a good local story.

Another local media outlet had another approach. In a smelly, untidy looking backwater of Suffolk is a town called Haverhill. It is a town that the planners forgot about, or more importantly bypassed, in favour of more important towns like Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. Haverhill is a town with a serious inferiority complex and likes to feel sorry for itself. Haverhill is one of those sad little towns that likes to complain about anything, hates people stupid enough to help it, but loves those who makes a mess of things in the town, because it means there is more to complain about.

Tucked away amongst the two streets that the good folk of Haverhill calls a town centre is a little office of hardworking reporters. The reporters of the local weekly newspaper, the Haverhill Echo, work very hard to put the town on the map, and sell newspapers. Nothing will get in the way of a good story that can be talked up a bit. For instance a Friday night fight between two drunks is reported as a fullscale street riot or a little bump between two vehicles may be described as bloody carnage on the roads. If heaven forbid the Haverhill Echo editor disappears whilst on holiday one wonders if an alien abduction story could not be sneaked in somewhere.

The Haverhill Echo hates to be left out on important national issues. If an event is good enough for the nation then it is good enough for Haverhill, especially if the Haverhill Echo can sell newspapers.

Through Haverhill trickles a little river of about a few inches high and the size slightly wider than the shopping trollies that gather there on a regular basis at frequent intervals along the route. The river is helped on its way with regular outflows of sewage and chemicals from the many little pipes that flow out of the many businesses that the Haverhill Echo promotes with nice red stickers with "HavPride" on them. It is a river that no self respecting duck would be seen dead in let aone from bird flu.

Still this did not stop Haverhill Echo reporting on an H5N1 scare with a big headline "SWAN IN BIRD FLU SCARE". The scare happened in a village called Great Abington where a swan was found dead. Great Abington is a village miles away from Haverhill and has as much in common with Haverhill as Buckingham Palace has with a mud hut in Outer Mongolia. To get the local angle the Haverhill reporters wheel out the Haverhill hero from a village just on the edge of Haverhill in Sturmer. Our hero finds a dead swan in a far more majestic and "real" river in Great Abington and reports the incident to the Government Experts/Mystic Meg. The Haverhill Echo reporters move into gear now. This is a huge crisis and it is "a major alert" as the Haverhill Echo reporters put it. 100 people worldwide are reported as dead from H5N1 and the "lethal strain" was reported to have hit Hungry (Writer note: Hungry is not part of Haverhill and the town residents who can be easily confused hopefully will become aware of this soon). The dead swan was "rushed" to a lab for tests, where less than panic stricken Experts in between watching EastEnders tested the swan, and with some impressive turns of speed, that Experts occasionally can achieve, announced 5 days later that their test for H5N1 was negative on the swan. Mystic Meg was on the case with a quote in the Haverhill Echo that the Experts knew all along that H5N1 in the swan was "very unlikely". Experts were on hand to "reassure" frightened Haverhill residents with that warm knowing smile frightened people come to trust that all was safe and secure.

The Haverhill Echo photographer must have been off with flu as no photos, complete with a frightened vulnerable single mother with a couple of anxious children, were added to the story by our enterprising local reporters. Nonetheless local Haverhill residents are watching their little shopping trolly filled stream with fearful expressions for any sign of a dead swan, duck or Big Bird from Sesame Street, and have a telephone number to call in the event of such an event occuring.

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