AFTER hours of searching on Netflix for engrossing films and series, in desperation we are re-watching old favourites. We started back on the first series of Spiral, the French police and legal drama, which still stands up well, even though it was first screened in 2005.

Amidst all those uplifting architectural shots of the Palais de Justice in Paris, Spiral serves up a gory diet of violence. So far, we’ve had a murdered baby, paedophilia, rape, mutilation, incineration, and torture.

Mercifully, Spiral’s script refers to these atrocities fleetingly, rather than making the viewer a spectator. But did I not notice how brutal it was first time round, or has the low mood brought about by the covid lockdown made me less able to face the darker side of life?

A friend who struggles with her mental health long since eschewed such post-watershed programming on the advice of her counsellor.

She would rather sit through all 2 hours and 19 minutes of Mary Poppins than witness any potentially mind-polluting nastiness.

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Years back, she also stopped watching or listening to news bulletins, which I then thought was somewhat extreme, an abnegation of adulthood and informed citizenship. But news abstinence is a commonly advocated mental health survival tool, and she makes no apology for retreating to La La Land to shut out the daily roll call of horror from our broadcasters.

And covid has definitely boosted the ranks of TV news-avoiders. So many people I know have switched-off and are now living the lyrics of Morrissey’s song, Spent the Day in Bed:

Stop watching the news

Because the news contrives to frighten you

To make you feel small and alone

To make you feel that your mind isn't your own

Despite being a journalist, covid has prompted me to break off my connection with broadcast news. I get my news alerts from social media, subscription websites, blogs, magazines, and newspaper print columnists of a more pluralistic mindset.

Detaching myself from the 24-hour intravenous drip of fear for the sake of my sanity is one part of my motivation. The other is my resistance to central elements of the official virus narrative, and my disappointment that once trusted broadcasters fail to critically examine the government story.

Reporters pop up in intensive care units like paparazzi, fronting shocking footage of the gravely ill, but these Peeping Tom contributions fail to provide any context, such as recovery figures, that would enable us to address these images with a sense of proportion.

The Herald:

With few exceptions, the broadcast media have acted as amplifiers of government press releases and turned us into ghouls. Covid monomania is driving a national mental health epidemic. There’s only so much people can take.

This terror campaign is deliberate. Last March the UK Government’s SAGE committee advised Johnson to step it up. “A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened..." "The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.” SAGE told the PM to "use media to increase sense of personal threat”, and our media jumped to the task.

This manipulative government and media partnership, with its unparalleled psychological abuse of the population, has robbed us of hope, which is unforgivable.

As the MP Charles Walker put it, “this messaging, designed to create the highest level of fear and anxiety about the virus, has ruthlessly stripped away the coping mechanisms of those with an existing mental health condition, or those vulnerable to developing one”.

After a year of this torment, it’s only amazing that more of us are not curled up in foetal position, feeling utterly desperate, with The Sound of Music playing on a loop.

Meanwhile the results of this fear fest are palpable: children who are too scared to go outdoors lest they kill their parents; adolescents isolated at home suffering from anxiety, eating disorders and self harm; parents battling depression, desperation and suicidal thoughts; old people fading away from loneliness and lack of stimulation.

Walker poses one very pertinent question. Is it ever acceptable for a responsible government to create a level of fear that will push many people to the very edge of what they can bear, or even over that edge?

“Did they [the Secretary of State, the Chief Medical Officer, and the members of Sage] ask if it was ethical to embark on a strategy that will leave many of our fellow citizens debilitated with fear, anxiety and worse for years to come, or perhaps a lifetime?”

If they did, it certainly didn’t cause them to rethink.

But why would a government choose to inflict such mental trauma on its population? Tony Benn offered an explanation when he talked about creeping authoritarianism: "There are two ways in which people are controlled. Firstly frighten people, then demoralise them”.

He added: “An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.”

Think back to those halcyon pre-covid days when Tony Blair tried to convince us to accept ID cards. He didn’t succeed because most citizens saw them as a dangerous precedent that could undo centuries-long freedoms and prime the pump for Big Brother-type surveillance.

Now there are moves afoot to compel us to carry vaccine passports, which apart from raising the same civil liberties issues, would be discriminatory, coercive, and arguably counter to the Nuremberg Code.

Is there another agenda here behind the public health excuse?

Walker talks of “something much darker hiding in the shadows”. The coronavirus laws have ushered in curtailments of personal rights that put us in the same company as totalitarian states like North Korea and China. Freedom of movement. Freedom of association. Freedom of assembly, all curtailed.

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Last week, when nurses dared to organise a socially distanced demonstration in Manchester against their insulting 1% pay rise, the organiser was arrested and fined £10,000 under draconian lockdown rules.

When you cheer on suspensions of human liberties, be careful what you wish for. It could have unpleasant consequences and you could be a recipient.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.