Lack of faith in traditional media makes it harder to contain COVID-19

Shaun McLeod Photo credit: Daniel Williams

Faith in traditional media has been declining for years, and at no other time in recent history has it been more evident than during the current COVID-19 pandemic and it’s making it harder to control the virus.

From people bending the truths, to outright lies, the media has been blamed at almost every turn during this pandemic by people who don’t understand what trustworthy media looks like.

One of the biggest complaints that’s making the rounds is that media is to blame for riling people up and to be clear, that’s absolutely false.

At no point during this pandemic has any major media outlet in Canada suggested that you need to stock up on toilet paper. In fact, the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s most prominent newspapers, published no less than five articles warning against panic buying at its height.

The CBC and CTV have also rolled out fact-checking segments and web pages to dispel all the unverified information surrounding the disease.

When news outlets report on World Health Organization or Public Health Ontario giving projections and worse case scenarios, it’s not to incite panic. It’s to put pressure on people in power, like Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who was telling families to “go away” and to “have a good time” as late as March 12.

To Ford’s credit, he’s pivoted and done an admirable job since then, but his pivot has relied on good data from trustworthy sources like Public Health Ontario and WHO – the same sources that the news brings to you.

And by the way, trustworthy sources don’t include the likes of celebrity doctor Dr. Drew, whose continued commentary on COVID-19 has even influenced Canadians to stay abroad while the Prime Minister of Canada urged them to come home.

Now is also not the time to listen to daytime television shows for advice.

When the controversy around taking ibuprofen potentially worsening symptoms COVID-19 was at its height, every show had a segment warning against it. When the WHO walked back their previous backing of the claim, the news were the ones to let you know it was safe.

The apathy of some people towards the traditional media and their sources is going to turn into a pandemic in itself if this continues. With people still taking to the beach in Vancouver, Los Angeles and Miami despite the directions not to, it’s clear people aren’t listening fast enough.

The data on COVID-19 is not hard to find.

Every nightly newscast and social media post about the disease is filled with it. To still go out to highly-crowded areas – like Queen’s University’s St. Patrick’s Day party – and risk further spread of the disease should be considered an act of violence.

COVID-19 won’t go away on its own.

It’s going to take a large-scale effort, where everyone does their part even to begin to flatten the curve. That kind of effort is only possible if Canadians trust traditional media sources, consume well-sourced information and practice physical distancing.

These measures may be inconvenient but better than the alternative.