Can stories deserve fact check

Editorial | Mary Ma 27 Jan 2021

The food-parcel controversy in the Jordan lockdown at the weekend has shown the importance of facts, evidence and reliable sources.

It was the first time a localized lockdown was enforced during the pandemic.

Undoubtedly, the government will learn from the incident as it continues to place more areas under similar lockdowns to contain the epidemic.

To avoid any misunderstandings, it must do more to disseminate information to the media.

It was clear from news reports over the past several days that food was people's major concern, and the heat that boiled up - especially over instant noodles and tinned food - was not anticipated.

Both print and online media carried numerous photos of the food parcels given to affected residents which contained packs of instant noodles and dried pasta, tins of fish, beans and spam as well as a serving of corn.

One newspaper was forced to make an apology after it was accused of running a photo that it later said was supplied by a district council member. It showed the tins of food were placed upside down, giving the impression that they had no pull rings.

With no pull rings and no can opener, were the tins useless? At first glance, that was a sensible question to ask.

But as this was a residential area with thousands of homes, surely it would not have been difficult to find a can opener. And the government said residents could change the foods if those given to them were inappropriate.

Then somewhere inside the lockdown area, a reporter was personally handed a food parcel because he [or she] was among those being confined. A photo of the foods was posted but, unfortunately, it was taken at an angle that did not show the top of the tins.

This case was isolated because the reporter checked into a hotel.

So, what were the facts?

Unfortunately, before they were known, the reports were awash with criticism - either directed at the journalists filing the reports for misinforming the public or at the government for not handling even a simple thing properly.

The facts are now known: the government admitted 80 percent of the tins had pull rings and 20 percent did not.

How serious was the issue? At most, it was 20 percent inconvenience. But the episode makes it clear that our society remains poles apart, with people determined to keep living in their respective echo chambers.

Journalists at the newspaper could have been more professional in verifying the photo supplied by a secondary source. Why didn't they find out why the cans were upside down in the photo?

In contrast, the other reporter's information was first-hand - though critics like left-wing trade unionist Stanley Ng Chau-pei did not hesitate to call it "fake news" and take the media to task over what the latter insisted to be a first-hand account.

Those who criticize each other risk falling into the Donald Trump syndrome.

Act wisely and be careful to get information that is neutral without varying hues of partisan color.

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