COVID-19 “success”: Why has the world media singled out New Zealand for praise?


Whether it is in the Business Insider, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Deutsche Welle, Time magazine or the CBC media, New Zealand has been widely lauded as the COVID-19 “success story.”

On 8 June, the island nation announced that its last person known to be infected with COVID-19 has recovered.

This means that (at that stage, at least) the virus had been eradicated. In total, New Zealand (5 million inhabitants) has confirmed just 1,154 cases and 22 deaths because of the coronavirus.

This is undoubtedly a success that could be attributed to three major factors: a harsh lockdown, geographical remoteness, and widespread testing (up to 8,000 tests per day).

The media coverage of COVID-19 is being questioned as the disease has swept across the world.

While it is not out aim to question or belittle the success of New Zealand, we contend that the international media approach of singling out of New Zealand in the struggle against COVID-19 is unfair, dismissive, and problematic.

Why are some countries more newsworthy than others?

Why is New Zealand’s success story exclusively highlighted in global news coverage, and not Tunisia, Taiwan, Jordan, Senegal, Vietnam, or Rwanda?

The answers to these questions can be addressed on two levels.

On the one hand, there is the bias of the Western media, undergirded as it is by both a certain “white saviour” narrative and undeniable structural racism.

The embattled Global North desperately needed some reassurance of its position of dominance, and New Zealand managed to hold out that silver lining.

After all, culturally, New Zealand is closer to the Western world than countries in Africa, the Middle East or South-East Asia who managed to defeat the virus despite their limited resources and lack of adequate technologies.

Italy, France, and the UK have completely failed in their responses to COVID-19, and the American President told US citizens to drink bleach.

In a piece in the New York Times, the lack of American leadership during the pandemic was bemoaned, but little or no mention was made of the countries setting positive examples.

Only one story on Vox mentioned Jordan as a success story, along with Iceland and Slovakia.

As a small country with almost double New Zealand’s population, far less wealth, and an enormous refugee overload, the Kingdom of Jordan had 915 cases, 671 recoveries, and only 9 deaths.

The remaining stories related to Jordan reported on how it “flattened the curve.”

In the same vein, only one piece by the American magazine Foreign Policy praised Taiwan. As an island state of 23.8 million people in Southeast Asia, located less than 150 km from the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, Taiwan has recorded 443 cases, 431 recoveries, and only 7 deaths.

It is worth mentioning that Taiwan does not enjoy a membership in the WHO.

The island relied on its experience in fighting the SARS pandemic and has shown great adaptability in dealing with the COVID-19.

The example of Taiwan would be a case that can be studied, discussed, and duplicated if it had better media exposure.

This is what success in fighting coronavirus looks like.

But instead of having international media outlets amplifying the voices of these successful models, we get romanticised stories of how Germany is an “exception,” even while reports studiously ignoring Germany’s large death toll.

Iran was covered as if it was a “complete disaster,” and yet the death toll there is almost exactly the same as in Germany.

And while reports — such as The Telegraph, Time magazine, CNN, and Ici Radio Canada — have all widely lauded the leadership and competence of two white women leaders, Angela Merkel and Jacinda Ardern, they fell short of extolling the achievements of women leaders from the Global South, such as President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, and the Tunisian Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nissaf Ben Alaya.

On the other hand, while these aforementioned countries belong to the Global South, international news flow has historically remained in favour of the developed world or the Global North.

The unequal coverage and under-representation of the Global South already have been of great concern because of how they influence the way people perceive these countries.

Western Media are still unable to understand, much less admit, that there are other civilizations, cultures, models, and societal structures out there. It praises a “Western civilization” that they believe is to be universally adopted.

Praising New Zealand, Germany, and similar nations is not just an issue of media representation — it is an ideological, political, and historical phenomenon which is reflected in and reinforced by global politics. Continue reading

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