The Australian International Political Economic Network is holding its 12th Workshop at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia on the 15th and 16th July 2021. AIPEN and UQ have kindly provided me with a travel bursary to attend the 12th Workshop: my thanks to Associate Professor Shahar Hameiri, Ms. Monica Di Leo, and Ms. Olivia Formby for their help. Here is the abstract of my proposed talk:
The Political Economy of Media Debates on COVID-19’s Origins
Since its emergence in China’s city Wuhan in late 2019, the COVID-19 virus has caused an international pandemic, a major public health emergency, and has had significant economic impacts. Two rival explanatory hypotheses developed regarding COVID-19’s origins: (1) zoonotic disease transfer from animals to humans, likely involving bats, and (2) a ‘lab leak’ theory involving a possible accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The World Health Organisation promoted the zoonotic disease transfer hypothesis: this became the dominant explanation during COVID-19’s initial global outbreak in 2020. However, Trump Administration officials in the United States promoted the ‘lab leak’ theory in the geopolitical context of a trade war with China. The ‘lab leak’ theory – initially dismissed as fringe conspiratorial thinking – gained further media coverage in 2021 after long-form investigative journalism profiles by Nicholson Baker (New York Magazine) and Nicholas Wade (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). These profiles led to renewed debate in the media about scientific research funding; the promises and dangers of virology research; the history of laboratory accidents; and the difficulties of international governance and verification. This presentation investigates the political economy of this media debate on COVID-19’s origins, and it also provides a contemporary update to the influential propaganda model developed by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media).