Watching the watchers - Shameful copying of erroneous WHO report in (Greek) media

Chris Gioran bio photo By Chris Gioran

These days it’s hard to find online a story about Greece that is positive in nature. Most of the time it’s yet another negative statistic, or a new set of austerity measures sparking new protests and violence on the streets. And, mostly because humans are creatures of habit and like being confirmed, most such stories are treated with a “hardly surprising” attitude.

I don’t expect something different from the masses of Reddit, online commenters of news items and perhaps the odd editorial piece or two.

However, i do have different expectations of journalists, especially Greeks. The job of a journalist is first and foremost to independently verify stories before publishing them, and the highest the impact of the story the more trouble she must go through. So i was somewhat disappointed to see a particularly depressing statistic pop up in at least two news outlets today. This is a verbatim copy of the World Health Organisation report on the health divide in the European Region, which none of the two outlets above deemed necessary to reference. But that’s details.

Now, this is not the first time i see such slapdash reporting from either of those sites. But i consider that overall not that big a deal, especially given the volume of stories they do and the need to promptly report news in such a competitive space. But, this story is not something to be taken lightly. It puts Greece in a hugely negative spotlight, implying that the situation is so bad in the country that people opt for being infected with a horrible disease in order to make ends meet. This is not just another statistic. This is putting a country, their country, out there with other Third World nations, perhaps even below them. They should have taken some time to follow through this story and verify it, especially since WHO references its sources.

This task proved to be deceptively simple. A redditor did it. Trivial.

Since then, WHO has retracted their statement and at least has pubished the fact, without of course apologising for their own insufficient fact checking.

Of course, we must acknowledge that the two sites above were not the only ones misled, demonstrating perhaps how journalism operates in a global scale. But that is something for another post.