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In this photo illustration, a statement from WHO (World...

In this photo illustration, a statement from WHO (World Health Organization) about the new SARS-CoV-2 variant, Omicron, is seen on the news shown on a smartphone screen. | Source: SOPA Images / Getty

The fundamental foundation of journalism has always centered on the primary principle of accuracy. But as the Omicron variant fuels the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, far too many mainstream media outlets have been quick to erroneously assign carte blanche blame to the entire continent of Africa without doing their due diligence, according to a progressive civil rights advocacy group.

Yes, it is true that Omicron was discovered by scientists in South Africa. But that doesn’t mean that’s where the exponentially contagious yet much less mild variant is from, let alone the part of the world where it is raging the most.

MORE: As New COVID-19 Variant Emerges, Calls For Global Vaccine Equity Continue

On the contrary, it is unclear where exactly Omicron originated. However, it is abundantly clear where the variant has been proliferating. And it’s not in Africa.


That truth has not been properly reflected in the ensuing mainstream media coverage since the existence of Omicron was first announced late last month, Color Of Change says in its petition to bring an end to the slanted news reports.

Noting that “it has since been determined that Omicron had been in Europe weeks before it was detected in South Africa,” Color of Change says the media has nevertheless “dubbed the entire continent a ‘COVID hotspot’ and spread misinformation about the relationship between Black people and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The online petition draws parallels between the biased Omicron coverage and when the early days of the pandemic last year when media organizations followed President Donald Trump’s lead and vilified China for the coronavirus.

“Some media outlets have referred to the Omicron variant as the ‘South African variant,’ wrongfully indicating that it originated there; while others have failed to make any mention of the spike in Omicron variant cases across Europe (e.g., Britain, Denmark), opting to focus solely on the number of COVID-19 cases in South Africa,” Color of Change said before adding: “What we’re witnessing happened in the early days as COVID-19 was uncovered in China. The racism and xenophobia that emerged then are showing now.”

To be sure, the Omicron variant “was first detected in specimens collected on November 11, 2021 in Botswana and on November 14, 2021 in South Africa,” the CDC says. But nowhere on the CDC’s Omicron facts webpage does it say that Omicron was started in Africa. Somehow, between the CDC’s reporting and what mainstream media reported, that message got completely upended. That has resulted in the “anti-Black” narrative cited by Color of Change.

“The media should be ashamed of enabling racist narratives—it simply has to stop,” Color of Change said. “Tell the media that Black people are not public health threats!”

Color of Change’s petition includes a letter to media executives making the same plea.

At the heart of the issue is a clear and present lack of diversity in media, a persistent scourge in the nation’s news coverage.

From the New York Times admitting in February that its coverage has been rooted in white perspectives to CBS News being shamed for not assigning any Black reporters to cover the 2020 presidential election, it should not be a surprise that mainstream media coverage of the pandemic has skewed racist at times.


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