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Timely fest film on pandemic information

Wairarapa’s leg of the New Zealand International Film Festival kicks off tomorrow.

Wednesday’s paper will include information about what’s on, when, and you can also check out which festival films will be playing at Masterton’s Regent 3 Cinemas from 16-30 August at www.nziff.co.nz.

In the meantime, in view of the government announcement that – as of today – all remaining covid-19 restrictions have been binned, it’s interesting to note that this year’s line-up includes a documentary called ‘Ms. Information’ [the film also has a bonus local connection, having been co-produced by former Wairarapa resident Phillida Perry].

The subject of the “candid fly-on-the-wall” doco is microbiologist and science communicator Siouxsie Wiles and the role she played as a “go-to expert” for media during the height of the covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand.

In playing this role, Wiles – with a few notable exceptions – was generally a reliable communicator of the government’s preferred pandemic policy responses and, as such, attracted both appreciation and ire as public opinion about whether these were proportional to the virus’ threat became increasingly divisive.

Based on the film’s synopsis, it increasingly focuses on those societal fractures, and how some of the resulting animosity was directed at Wiles [“There’s anger, there’s frustration and there’s anguish as Siouxsie is victimised for nothing less than trying to save lives”].

That emphasis is hardly surprising – in the parlance of the screen biz, it’s a “strong narrative arc” and is certainly in keeping with the abiding perspective promulgated by global mainstream media that views deviating from government covid-19 policy were at least as dangerous as the virus itself [and possibly even more so, given how alarm over unclean information now seems to outstrip concern about covid].

But while there’s no excuse for the abuse that some individuals heaped on Wiles for doing what she thought was right by conveying officially approved information in a crisis, perhaps it’s also well past time to spare a thought for those scientists and medical professionals who didn’t stick to the party line during the pandemic, and were savagely pilloried by the state, media, and majority of the public for doing so.

In the latest issue of The Journal of Higher Education, there’s an essay titled ‘We Need Scientific Dissidents Now More Than Ever’ in which Professor of Philosophy Eric Winsberg outlines the way in which scientific inquiry can all too easily be funnelled in just one “acceptable” direction and how those who continue to dissent from such quickly cobbled together consensuses tend to be comprehensively crushed.

Although you won’t have noticed if you haven’t been actively “doing your own research”, the legitimate scientific debate over pretty much every aspect of the covid-19 response is still very much on the bubble and looks likely to be for some years yet.

In the meantime, it’s ironic that Wiles now finds herself at odds with the official government line that covid-19 is for all intents and purposes over.

“Gutted by today’s news that masking in healthcare settings and mandatory isolation are goneburgers,” she posted on social media yesterday. “Sending hugs to everyone who understands what this means.”

Presumably, at this stage of the game, she’ll avoid the ignominy of being labelled a purveyor of “misinformation”.

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