According to popular legend (war films, that kind of thing) the great British public was once proud of its ability keep its head while all around it, chaos reigned. In the face of any kind of emergency you could count on the unflappable Brit to keep calm and carry on, solving life-threatening crises with a stiff upper lip or a piping hot cup of sugary tea - though that combination of the two must have led to spillage.
Why then the sudden need to panic, about everything, all the time? Any story that involves a coughing swan or pig with a sniffle sends the tabloids into meltdown. Why weren't we (the public) told; what are they (the government) hiding? Or if you want to upset the teacups and ratchet up the panic to Defcon 5, what does it mean for our children?
The truth is the tabloids like a good panic every now and again. It binds the readers together behind a common cause, often with the added value of said tabloid gently reminding the reader that they were right all along, even when they weren't. The recent, tragic case of the schoolgirl who died shortly after receiving a Cervarix cancer jab is a prime example of orchestrated panic.
Daily Mail comment boards were sent into a tailspin of badly informed opinion. Any serious discussion about side effects, pros and cons of vaccinations or evidence was lost in a fit of pique. Why weren't we told; what are they hiding; what does it mean for our children? they said. Then, after considering said evidence, it appeared the tragedy was a result of an underlying medical condition.
Campaigning journalism has an important place in the media. Where would we be without Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein breaking the Watergate scandal, apart from not having every scandal since being given the 'gate' suffix; but with great power comes great responsibility.
Things have moved on since Orson Welles tricked a nation into thinking aliens had landed, but the kind of moral panic we've seen over issues such as Sarah's law and Baby P, bird and swine flu, and the MMR and Cervarix vaccines masks real debate, where needed, and encourages political parties who should know better into making knee-jerk policy decisions.
It is debatable how deeply public opinions is by the odd a poison editorial, but hyperbolic reporting seen on stories mentioning jabs, flus or child safety squeeze the room for needed for informed reporting. The public should be within easy reach of the facts, not reaching for the panic button.
Neil Willis is a former freelancer with experience in the charity and consumer sectors, business to business publishing and national newspapers. He now works for an international news digest.