US survey finds confusion among public about pandemic news

Ropeik said social media has muddied the waters with misinformation. (AP)
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Updated 30 June 2020

US survey finds confusion among public about pandemic news

  • Three in 10 Americans say they trust President Donald Trump and his administration to get the facts straight

NEW YORK: For a story that has dominated the news during the past four months, a survey out Monday illustrates the difficulty that many Americans have in finding information they can believe about the coronavirus pandemic.
Three in 10 Americans say they trust President Donald Trump and his administration to get the facts straight all or most of the time when talking about COVID-19, the Pew Research Center said.
“I can’t think of any precedent for that,” said Dan Fagin, director of New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program, and a former reporter. “There’s a reason why that number is so low. Honestly, what disturbs even more is that there is 30% of the public who think they can believe the president on this.”
The president, along with some other leaders, were criticized initially for not taking the threat seriously, for delivering misinformation about potential treatments and, even today, delivering mixed messages on the need for masks and social distancing.
Even though Trump was a polarizing figure before the health crisis, he had a chance to get Americans to rally behind him by offering solid, consistent information, said David Ropeik, retired Harvard University professor and author of “How Risky Is It, Anyway? Why our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts.”
He cited former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks as an example of a leader people rallied behind in a time of crisis.
“Trust is an intuitive sense of who we think is on our side, and that is why risk communication is really crucial in a time like this,” Ropeik said. “That is why the federal government has blown this and many of the state governments haven’t.”
The Pew survey found dramatic differences in how the public assessed key sources of information on coronavirus, said Amy Mitchell, Pew’s director of journalism research.
A little more than half of those surveyed (53%) trusted the accuracy of information they were getting from governors or state leaders, with 44% believing the news media. Trust numbers were higher for local media sources, Pew said.
Nearly 2 of 3 Americans said they had confidence in the information they were getting from the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations.
“What is encouraging is that people do have great faith in public health experts,” Fagin said. “That’s why Anthony Fauci’s role is so important and that it’s a great blessing that he’s been involved in all of this.”
Ropeik said social media has muddied the waters with misinformation. That’s illustrated by Pew’s finding that 71% of Americans had heard the conspiracy theory that the virus outbreak had been intentionally planned, and that 36% said that is probably or definitely true.
Among people who cite the president and his administration as their primary source of information about the coronavirus, 56% of Pew’s respondents said they believed that theory, which is unsupported by evidence.
The survey also found evidence of a growing partisan divide in beliefs. For example, a majority of Republicans (54%) said they believed most or all of information provided by Trump, while only 9% of Democrats do.
More Republicans increasingly believe the coronavirus is overblown, said Pew, which conducted an online survey between June 4-10 of 9,654 people in a panel of adults selected randomly.
While Ropeik is less confident, NYU’s Fagin said he believed Trump had the ability to turn things around if he sticks with facts and models important behavior, such as wearing a mask in public and insisting on social distancing by his supporters.
“What opinion leaders do can make a big difference,” he said.

Out of work marriage registrars wait for couples to say ‘I do’ in Bangladesh

Updated 07 July 2020

Out of work marriage registrars wait for couples to say ‘I do’ in Bangladesh

  • Lockdown restrictions mean more people opt for virtual weddings

DHAKA: There were days when Khalilur Rahman Sardar would struggle to take a lunch break during office hours.

As one of Bangladesh’s 7,500 registrars officiating marriages in the country, his days were busy and diary always full.

However, after the government imposed social distancing restrictions in March to limit the spread of coronavirus in the country, the number of couples getting married in person fell drastically as well. Dhaka-based Sardar told Arab News on Monday that he’s been rendered jobless by the pandemic.

“Usually, I register around 20-40 marriages per month. But I have registered only two marriages in June. If the pandemic continues for an indefinite period, I don’t know how we will survive,” said Sardar, who is the president of the Bangladesh Muslim Marriage Registrar Association (BMRA).

With strict restrictions on movement, he said that a majority of couples, especially those residing in different cities, were choosing to get married online, resulting in a “total disaster” for most registrars.

Whereas earlier couples could walk into a marriage registrar’s office to legalise their wedding, nowadays the registrar receives a power of attorney from either the bride or groom to sign on their behalf in the registration book and make the wedding official.

In some cases, the bride or groom sends a signed and scanned copy of a “promise note” as a document of surety for the registrar. In addition to this, the registrar also enlists a guardian to send a video recording of the virtual ceremony for further proof. 

According to law, marriage registrars receive a 12.5 percent commission of the total amount of “Den Mohor,” the money pledged by the groom to his bride as part of a necessary process in a Muslim marriage.

Registrars bear all their office expenses from these earnings.

However, with no source of income due to couples opting for virtual weddings, the BMRA has appealed to the government to grant them a stimulus package or some financial relief.

“We also need to survive, just like other professionals in society. But in a situation with almost no work, how can we do that?” asked Iqbal Hossain, secretary-general of the BMRA.

“Our work volume is down to 5 percent of the normal workload. It’s become a question of our very existence and if it goes like this, many of our colleagues will be forced to switch the profession,” Hossain said.

However, virtual marriages have brought relief for some couples.

“Our marriage ceremony was scheduled to take place in the last week of May. But the COVID-19 pandemic compelled us to postpone all the ceremonies, and it was just a virtual marriage,” said Nusrat D., a resident of Dhaka’s Bangshal area.

She said that since her husband lives in Europe and couldn’t visit Bangladesh due to the international travel ban, they had no option but to exchange vows online.

Wedding planners in Dhaka are making optimum use of the lockdown restrictions, providing tailored packages for virtual marriages.

With charges ranging from $100 to $200, the packages include the services of a marriage registrar, a live musical show which is streamed online and an option to connect a guest list of up to 1,000 people.

“In the past month, I organised a virtual marriage where the groom was in Chottogram, and the bride was in the United Kingdom. I have four to five more clients who have signed up for the package,” said Labib Mohammad, chief executive of Selvice, an event management firm.