Comparing COVID-19 and Highland Towers tragedy: It’s not apples and oranges

I REFER to an article titled Record deaths, deceit expose government failure. I believe a right of reply is necessary for the sake of ethical journalism and hope your publication can carry this alternate view point.

The retired journalist drew a comparison between the Highland Towers tragedy which killed 48 people in 1993, with the mounting deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

His argument goes that if the 48 deaths could hog the headlines for days and weeks back then, the over 8,000 deaths from COVID-19 was an indictment of the government’s “miserable” failure.

The veteran editor’s logic is flawed in more ways than one. First of all, he’s comparing apples and oranges. The collapsed of the Highland Towers was a construction disaster.

The spectacle of a high-end condominium toppling, in a posh enclave at the heart of the KL city centre, killing among others, the son and daughter-in-law of an ex-Deputy Prime Minister, contain all the trappings of seat-gripping drama.

As a seasoned journalist, the writer should know that as tragic and shocking the incident 28 years ago was, it had all the ingredients worthy of filling up the prime pages of newspapers and prized broadcast slots back then (before anyone had even heard of online portals and social media).

The COVID-19 pandemic, on the other hand, has been with us for around 18 months now. It is true that infections and death toll are climbing at worrying rates. But the “novelty” and “shock” elements had largely worn off after a prolonged battle to contain this global pandemic.

And we are not alone as countries worldwide also struggle to beat this invisible enemy especially with the Delta variant which is more virulent, making its rounds with deadly speed.

Just this week, Sydney announced an extension of lockdown by two weeks as Australia’s largest city detect a surge in infection. Even in the UK, which has recently eased lockdown restrictions, still recorded an average of 30,000 infections a day over the past week.

Is the writer saying that all these countries have also failed miserably? If the writer is concerned about death toll, why isn’t he training his guns at road accident fatalities?

In 2019, there were over 6,000 deaths and the figure was rising over the years, except for 2020 where 4,634 were recorded, a dip attributed to the movement control order (MCO).

What about cancer? In 2018, over 26,000 deaths were reported, more than three times the total fatalities caused by COVID-19. Did the writer question if enough awareness or early detection was done to cut down cancer-related mortality?

The writer should remember that a fundamental tenet in journalism is not to let emotions and sentiments to cloud his judgement and that he should remain impartial.

Despite being a key media operative during kleptocrat Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s era in Media Prima Bhd before being shown the door after Pakatan Harapan (PH) took Putrajaya in May 2018, the writer can at least try to remain objective and not let emotion get the better of him. – July 29, 2021


Firdaus Junid is from Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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