Still with The Hydroxychloroquine

Newspaper restores an unnecessary controversy and reaps a handful of clicks

On Tuesday (29), Folha published on page 3 of the printed newspaper, in the Trends / Debates section, the article “The press and the hydroxychloroquine”, which set out to discuss the news coverage of the drug.

In the text, it is argued that, although it is not known whether hydroxychloroquine is effective against Covid-19 or not, the lack of skepticism would affect the coverage of the issue by the press, which, in an effort to strengthen the discourse that chloroquine does not work, would then make a series of errors.

"Anyway, a little bit of wisdom in the debate around something that should be a technical issue," said one reader. "As Trump spoke well of the drug, the press went against it."

It is curious that the article points out as a problematic example a report by Folha from Agosto (“Site keeps score on research for and against chloroquine use”), which presents all the elements that the states having missed in the coverage.

In addition to listening to seven experts with different assessments of studies on the drug's success rate, the article is filled with recommendations similar to those suggested by the author in his text: that studies should be read with a hint of skepticism, that it is necessary to take politics out of the debate, and that the discussion over the effectiveness of drugs against Covid-19 is far from over.

More than discussing the content itself, it is worth trying to understand what led Folha to publish, at this point, a text that, when trying to do the healthy exercise of criticizing journalistic coverage, again entangles the debate about chloroquine.

I have already covered the subject in one of my columns. One of the warnings I gave at that time, mid-April, was that Folha was at risk of embarking on the dead-end formula of juxtaposing “one text in favor, another against”, which, as we are discussing a medical drug, could put the health of many at risk.

Why use this formula again?

As one reader asked, is it appropriate to publicize the opinion that contradicts the consensus of the scientific community in such a confused and dramatic moment? Would the plurality justify publication?

The article views an error where it does not exist. In response to the text, the editor-in-chief of the journal Questão de Ciência, Carlos Orsi, said in an article also published in Folha that, today, the uncertainty regarding the ineffectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19, at any stage of the disease, is irrelevant enough to allow the press to treat this ineffectiveness as proven, without fear of doing a disservice to the reader and to the public health.

As for plurality, it is certain that there are scientific debates that oppose consensus and that, when brought to the public, stimulate free thinking. However, when public health is at stake, dissent demands more careful treatment.

Furthermore, the decision to publish any text using plurality as a justification is only part of the story. The other is that not every opinion article is accepted for publication on page 3 of the newspaper. Once printed, however, the stamp of validation attributed to the message suggests that it is worthy of inclusion into public debate — which is not always true.

Many readers send me texts for publication and I send their suggestions to the Trends / Debates section or to the corresponding editorial team.

To state a more recent example, former minister Aloizio Mercadante requested (and did not get) space to question the report whose title on the web was "The decade put black people in college, and not (only) to take care of cleaning", which curiously fails to mention, at any time, that the inclusion quota Law was approved by the Dilma Rousseff government.

The chloroquine piece was sent to the ombudsman and sent to the Trends / Debates section. He was luckier.

The decision on what is published in the Trends / Debates section rests with the Opinion editorial team, after consulting with the Editorial Board. Among the criteria for choosing are the quality of the article, its relevance, and the opportunity of the topic, as well as the author's representativeness — factors that make the publication of the text even more intriguing.

One of the big themes of 2020 was the coronavirus, and the news coverage about it had many more hits than misses.

If something new is discovered regarding the effectiveness of drugs against Covid-19, I have no doubt that the press will follow the discovery closely. Until then, offering one of Folha's biggest showcases for a not very enlightening text seems like an attempt to re-stimulate the controversy where it doesn't exist and to reap another handful of clicks.

Regarding last week's column, the text "Sensationalism in the pandemic", the publisher of Cidades da Folha, Luciana Coelho, states the following: “The reporter heard two people by phone and collected two other reports through social networks, one of which, the author confirmed by message (the other person did not respond to the attempted contact). She also heard the Military Police, the Civil Police, and Anvisa, by message and email. The checking of the photo does not show that it was taken abroad — the checking agencies use a different photo to make the same statement, with a female hand and another background. As the suspicion is that the vaccine in question has been smuggled, the fact that the boxes are the same does not allow us to infer that the photo was taken abroad. The reverse image search only gives the photo the context described by the report. An error was noted in the initial title, which did not attribute the claim to the sources. It was corrected with the public admission of errors ”.

I take this opportunity to wish a better 2021 for everyone. I'm leaving on vacation and will be back in February.

Flavia Lima

Reporter specialized in economics, she has a degree in social sciences from USP and one in law from Mackenzie. She has been an ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

We were wrong: the text has been altered

4.Jan.2021 to 18h57

The previous version of this column was wrong to state that the text sent to the ombudsman by the former minister Aloizio Mercadante was sent to the Trends / Debates section. In fact, the recipients were the three editors of the special "Todo dia um 7 a 1" and the Editorial Department.

Translated by Cassy Dias