Fuel shortages are on those who panicked - don't just blame the media

Cars queuing to get petrol at Tesco Extra on Blue Boar Lane in Sprowston. Picture: Danielle Booden

Cars queuing to get petrol at Tesco Extra on Blue Boar Lane in Sprowston. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Over the last few days I've lost count of the number of times 'the media' have been blamed for the ongoing problems at our petrol pumps.

'Scaremongering', 'making it up' and 'sensationalism' are just some of the accusations that have been thrown at the EDP, other local news media and the national press.

I wanted to use this week's column, therefore, to explore how we cover a story like this and try to reassure you that our approach to big stories is something that we discuss heavily within the newsroom and try our hardest to avoid exacerbating any existing problems. Not that it can always be avoided.

It has become very clear that when issues like potential shortages emerge that reporting of it can create a snowball effect. We saw it at numerous times during the pandemic, the most memorable one being the stockpiling of loo rolls in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

That potential for causing more panic is something my team and I are wholly aware of and try to factor into our coverage of such events.

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So when, last week, news started to emerge that some stations in the country were having trouble receiving fuel deliveries due to the ongoing shortage of lorry drivers, we knew our approach had to be reasoned and balanced.

But we couldn't simply ignore the story. Reporting the news is why we're here and giving people an account of what is happening out there so they can make their own choices in life, is our bread and butter.

ASDA on Boundary Road

ASDA petrol station on Boundary Road - Credit: Danielle Booden

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And that's why in many of our headlines we included reassurances about stock, were careful to provide further reassurance at the top of the story and tried to explain that fuel wasn't running out and as long as people stayed calm and only filled up when they need do, supply was unlikely to be massively impacted.

And in the days that have followed we have run several Q&As, backgrounders and analysis pieces to try to give readers a full picture of what is happening and to make it clear that if people unnecessary buy petrol, others who really need it may be impacted.

Here is a selection of EDP headlines in print and online:

"Why are there queues for petrol - and do you really need to fill up?"


"Queues form at Norfolk petrol stations - despite reassurances over stock"

"How key workers are coping with fuel demand across Norfolk"


"You are stopping us from doing our jobs"

I'm not saying our coverage has been perfect and I'm sure you can find examples where you may not feel our reporting was balanced enough - however what we haven't done is run headlines encouraging people to go out and panic buy petrol - as some may have you believe.

As a reader, as well as an editor, I feel I've read enough coverage to realise there's no need for me to go and panic buy (and for the record I have 230 miles left in my car and haven't joined the queues yet).

If others have made that personal choice to go out and fill their vehicles, petrol cans and more without real need, then I'm afraid that's on them. That was their choice entirely.

Sainsbury's petrol station at Attleborough closes as they run out of fuel after customers panic buy.

Sainsbury's petrol station at Attleborough closes as they run out of fuel after customers panic buy - Credit: Denise Bradley

I'm not saying our reporting hasn't exacerbated the problem. Of course, once people start to see queues build up at their nearest petrol station, it's understandable they may feel inclined to follow suit.

But the only way of stopping that from happening is from stopping the news from being reported at all - and that is a very dangerous path I hope the majority would not want to go down.

The problems of the last few days are on us as a society as a whole.

Firstly, the government should have done better to pre-empt the driver shortages that we've witnessed.

But then the public should also have listened more carefully to the early reassurances that there was no need to panic buy. And taken heed of the warnings that by panic buying they would guarantee that if there wasn't a problem five days ago when this began - there certainly is now.

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