Myth-information in the age of COVID-19 - The Orca

Myth-information in the age of COVID-19

Dene Moore

Dene Moore: Media are suffering just when we need them most. Support local outlets if and where you can.

No, you can’t catch COVID-19 from your dog. Please don’t drop your dog off at the SPCA.

No, hand dryers and UV lamps don’t kill the virus. Please stick to soap and hand sanitizer.

What about eating garlic? Nope. Gargling with lemon and hot water? Nada.

You don’t get COVID-19 from beer, it’s not caused by 5G towers, and it’s not a bioweapon engineered by the Chinese or the American government. There is no vaccine being withheld by any government anywhere, and dolphins have not returned to frolic in the canals of Venice under quarantine.

Most importantly, COVID-19 is not a hoax.

Myths and misinformation are spreading much faster than the virus itself, propagated by the usual YouTube conspiracy suspects and social media posts that play fast and loose with the truth.

Perhaps never has it been more important to have professional media to rely on; media with fact-checking processes in place and rigorous ethical standards subject to complaint and review. We need media that asks questions of those in the know and speaks truth to power.

And yet even as we need more than ever this fourth pillar of a decent democracy, it is crumbling.

Aside from the CBC, which is publicly funded as well as selling ads, private media in this country is wholly reliant on advertising sales. If those advertisers take a hit – and are they ever taking a hit – they don’t buy ads.

Canadian media have suffered an estimated 60 per cent decline in revenues in just the first few weeks of the COVID-19 shut down. About 500 journalists have been laid off.

SaltWire Network, the largest news chain in Atlantic Canada, has temporarily laid off 240 people – 40 per cent of its workforce.

In Quebec, Cogeco Media laid off 130 people at its 23 regional radio stations and the National Cooperative of Independent Information suspended print editions of its six regional dailies and temporarily laid off 143 staff.

The Toronto Star has eliminated 85 positions.

Closer to home, Glacier Media has halted production of the Vancouver Courier and laid off staff at several of the dozens of community newspapers it owns in the province and Black Press has reduced production of most of its community newspapers and temporarily laid off staff.

Media Central has laid off staff at its Georgia Strait weekly publication and Postmedia – the country’s largest newspaper publisher and owner of the Vancouver Sun and Province – has cut executive salaries and suggests staff salary cuts are next due to falling ad revenues.

Yes, most businesses are suffering from the shutdown and many won’t recover. But few are businesses that play a key role in democratic governance and accountability in our society. You cannot order a budget analysis off the menu at a restaurant and you can’t buy at the corner store an investigation into environmental infractions or money laundering.

We live in a time when, as the saying goes, we are drowning in information while starving for wisdom.

Everyone is so very right all the time, and those who disagree are not only wrong, they are the evil enemies of the real truth. We have surrendered public discourse to the extremes on every side.

If we allow the media to fail, we will wake when this public health crisis abates to find democracy has been its greatest casualty.

It is not insignificant that every despot begins by attacking the media. In the U.S., where the president has put so much effort into undermining the “fake news” from institutions such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, the impact of an ailing media from COVID-19 is being described as an “extinction-level event.”

Per capita, B.C. and Canada are in a much more dire situation. A decade of contraction, brought on by the aforementioned fast-and-loose rules of social media, has already taken a drastic toll.

I know money is tight and the future is uncertain and there are more immediate worries for all of us. It’s not a small ask.

But please subscribe to a news outlet. If you can, splurge on a couple. Your future just may depend on it.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.