An argument with Auntie over Zero Covid.

This one will run and run. A second reply that dodges the question of why they just don’t deal with why the per capita death rate here is so awful compared with China and why they instead put the whole issue in the framework of an inevitable drift into living with (and dying from) the virus forever.

My complaint to the BBC on 26 October

A small outbreak of COVID in China was used by your presenter and guest as an opportunity to sneer at China’s Zero Covid policy and to simply assume (not argue) that “Covid is here to stay”. As the application of this policy has kept deaths in China below 5,000 – and, had they applied the same approach as that of the USA they’d have lost 2.7 million people and, had they been as lackadaisical, callous and incompetent as our government it would have been worse – you’d think that they’d be entitled to a bit more respect and – perhaps – we might have something to learn from them if we are not to be in this mess forever.

Their reply

Thank you for contacting us regarding The World Tonight, broadcast 25 October on BBC Radio 4.

Having reviewed the broadcast, Ritula Shah was speaking to Dr Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, after raised concerns over China’s ability to maintain its zero-tolerance approach to the virus, due to a recent surge in infections causing the postponement of the Beijing Marathon.

During the interview she asked Dr Huang about how China would be able to keep up with this approach coming up to the 2022 Beijing Olympics and whether there, “is there any kind of internal discussion going on about the possibility of accepting that covid is here to stay, and lifting restrictions in the way that Australia and New Zealand have began to do?”

In the case of some interviews it is often understood by audiences that the interviewer will play “devil’s advocate” in order to pursue a line of enquiry with an interviewee.

It is important to recognise that a fundamental part of Ritula’s role is to offer analysis, using her experience and knowledge, but this is not indicative of bias.

Please be assured that BBC journalists seek out information and strive to present it accurately, clearly and objectively, we would never intend to mislead our audience, but we appreciate that you feel that we got it wrong on this occasion.

We do value your feedback about this. All complaints are sent to senior management and we’ve included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the company and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future content.

My reply to them

Thank you for your reply, which I take to be written in a spirit of post modern irony. An argument as a Devil’s Advocate is usually introduced when there is a cosy unquestioned consensus that is sorely in need of a challenge. In the interview, the dominant narrative in the West that COVID is here to stay and we just have to live (and die) with it was taken as read by both interviewer and interviewee. In fact Dr Huang expressed some incredulity that China insists on hospitalising “even mild cases”. Because, as we know, no one with a mild case has never known to infect anyone else with a severe or lethal case. It is this somnambulist and perverse presumption that constitutes the bias. May I suggest that Ritula, or one of your other presenters, tries out the following question on the next Minister who appears trotting out this complacent fatalism. “You say we have to live with the virus. The Chinese have a different approach and have kept deaths down below 5,000. We are currently losing that many every five weeks. Why have we got it so wrong?” This could be done sincerely, or as a Devil’s Advocate, or just in the Laurentian spirit of kicking over the apple cart to see which way the apples roll.

Their reply to me.

We reviewed this again and are confident that Ritula asked the questions most likely in the mind of the listener, and relevent to the context of the Winter Olympics.

Given the rise in cases and China’s zero tolerance policy – which had led to the postponement of the Bejjng marathon – the point was made as to if this tough stance could be maintained when there will be an influx of athletes from all over the world for the 2022 Winter Olympics in a few month’s time.

The exact quote you reference wasn’t so much an assumption but a question, “Is there any kind of internal discussion going on about the possibility of accepting Covid is here to stay, and lifting restrictions in the way that Australia and New Zealand have begun to do?”

It was reasonable to explore China’s zero tolerance approach and whether there would be movement on it – such as we’ve seen in other countries with a zero tolerance approach – so that the Games go ahead.

My reply to them (20 December).

The question that Ritala asked contained the assumption that we should all be bothered about – that China’s “tough stance” on covid might be unsustainable and that the sensible thing should surely be to relax it. That was also transmitted in the tone of the question and discussion, which exuded a sense of wonder that the Chinese should be so stubborn as to prioritise public health over business as usual. That is very much the Western paradigm and is now coming back to bite us with Omicron – and who knows what will come next if we don’t emulate what China has done and go for active suppression.

While it may be legitimate to question any policy anywhere, I have heard no comparable grilling of Western politicians as to why our death rates are so bloody awful compared with China’s. The way you frame your questions and reports has a lot to do with how listeners are nudged to think.

Just to update you on the stats.

If China had had a per million death rate comparable to the USA, they’d have lost over 3.3 million people (instead of 4,800).

Had the UK had as successful a covid suppression strategy as China, and had a comparable per million death rate (3.47 per million) we’d have lost just 226 people in the whole pandemic (and be pretty much opened up by now).

Do the maths yourself if you like. 3.47 X 65. Startling isn’t it?

Why isn’t this being put to the insouciant, lackadaisical, amateurish buffoons who are in charge? THAT is the question I’d like answered.

Thank you.

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