9th March 2021
The influence of public opinion on the BHA and IHRB has been all too evident in recent times but that pales into insignificance when compared with the influence on governments and politicians, particularly in times of crisis. To what extent has public opinion and perception influenced the handling of the of the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, rather than virology, epidemiology, and objective assessment of risk? Sadly, it seems that politicians, of all parties and in most countries, are more likely to be driven by polls than by any genuine altruistic concern for the electorate.
Perhaps it has always been so but I think most would agree that the influence of public opinion has been, at least, widened and extended into many more facets of our lives by the explosion of social media and the internet. And sadly, it seems, that the greatest influence on public opinion, especially ignorant majorities, is exerted by that section of the media which almost prides itself in never letting the truth get in the way of a good story, the tabloid journalists and those that produce the headlines to accompany their work. The objective of the headline writer, of course, is to grab attention and they really don’t mind how they do it. The perception created by the headline is often very different from that which the article was intended to convey.
On the internet, headline writers must compete with a huge volume of material and, as a result, there is a tendency to be even more sensationalist than their counterparts in print. There was a good example of this on the Racing Post website today.
Peter Thomas has written a typically good piece on the 2001 abandonment of the Cheltenham Festival due to Foot and Mouth. It is a very balanced and accurate piece based on those whose dreams of Cheltenham success were shattered when the meeting was cancelled. The attitude of those involved seemed to be one of resignation. Nobody questioned the need to abandon the meeting. It is assumed that it was a necessary measure as part of the fight against Foot and Mouth.
Readers of Peter Thomas’s piece will probably share the view that the abandonment of racing was an appropriate action at the time, especially if they read his article on the Racing Post website where it is presented under the headline, ‘How a killer disease thwarted two festival legends’. What ‘killer disease’? Foot and Mouth doesn’t kill people, it doesn’t kill horses, and it doesn’t usually even kill cattle, pigs or sheep. By no stretch of the imagination can it be described as a killer. What’s more, horses are no more likely to spread the disease than a bicycle or a motor car.
Some comparisons have been made between that outbreak of Foot and Mouth in 2001 and the current horrendous, world-wide, situation caused by Covid -19 and the measures implemented to minimise it’s spread. I suppose there are some comparisons, if only in that sensationalist journalism, misinformation and scaremongering have been used to influence public opinion in both cases.