The pandemic era has not been kind to the health of Canadian journalism and the public’s overall regard for it.
A survey published in March by the Edelman communications firm delves more deeply into the problem, which reflects a year of journalistic conduct during the pandemic and the wokism that took hold of many institutions last summer.
According to the survey, 49 percent of those surveyed agreed that journalists have been purposely trying to mislead by reporting things they know are false or exaggerated. Fifty-two percent believe media organizations are more preoccupied with promoting an ideology than informing the public. Fifty-two percent also believe that news outlets are failing when it comes to their pledge to be non-partisan and objective. This is after an increase in Canadians’ trust in institutions at the beginning of the pandemic, though that was unsurprisingly short-lived.
The digital age has done much to strain the journalism industry, with the rapacious appetite for a constant feed of content hindering the ability of both journalists and readers to properly discern and interpret facts. The social media atmosphere has done much to enforce echo chambers that prevent people from engaging with any source that might contradict their worldview. This can provide an abundance of conspiracy theories to any ideologue, which in turn may lead to some anti-democratic impulses.
One of the problems is that there appears to be a sentiment among certain professionals that they are just simply owed respect from the public without doing much to earn it. There has been no discernible effort to engage with criticism productively. There is a need for introspection regarding their conduct, and many journalists these days sadly seem utterly incapable of it.
Regarding the pandemic, those who believe journalists are manipulating their coverage to forward a certain viewpoint at the expense of impartiality could be forgiven. At this point, there is a vast array of research and perspectives on COVID-19 and how to respond to it among doctors and other experts. Revelatory information has come to light, for example, indicating the negative impacts and efficacy of lockdowns and other measures governments have taken to combat the pandemic. However, the reporting on this by mainstream outlets has been mostly negligible, with those who ardently subscribe to the #COVIDZero method often being the only experts consulted or invited onto panels. Those who call for more trade-offs or balance in the response are often treated as problematic rabble-rousers.
It is much the same when it comes to the polarized debates around questions of race and diversity. Desperate to show their fidelity to the fashionable woke doctrines, certain legacy outlets have accepted any claim of racism without much investigation and morphed rather redundant stories into a grand narrative about racism in Canadian society.
Others have had segments in which a team of “experts” on race declare that our system is merely one of colonial white supremacy and it must be dismantled. These, again, are always monochrome and not balanced with a counterpoint from a non-woke commentator who might still extol our institutions and explain why. The ousting of Stockwell Day from public life last June for expressing his opinion on what was ostensibly a discussion panel on race provides much insight into how conventionally patriotic views are treated as suspect.
What this presents to the public is the image of journalists who indulge in and promote negative views of their country in pursuit of an ideological goal, as well as lecturing to them about what are the morally right views to hold. Because, of course, the public doesn’t have the ability to decide for themselves based on the information available what their own views should be.
Providing an analysis that applies to Canada as much as the United States, American intellectual Yuval Levin argues in his book “A Time to Build” that what lies at the centre of these problems is an understanding of institutions as a platform for one’s own interests rather than something formative.
“In such situations, the institution is revealed to have been corrupted into serving those within it at the expense of its core purpose,” he writes. “Rather than shaping the people inside it, it comes to be deformed by them for their own ends.”
Most strikingly, this has manifested itself in journalism as new and experienced journalists have begun openly disrespecting their own profession by rebuking core practices for the sake of ideological goals.
One long-time journalist who is now a professor of journalism at the University of British Columbia has deemed objectivity a “view from nowhere” and a concept that could be harmful to minorities. She argued on a CBC Radio show that objectivity entrenches “dominant narratives” and social order in society. Instead, she said, the work should be done with the mindset of near advocacy, which should emphasize an approach that always considers the factors of privilege and structures since some reporting might hinder action on behalf of minority communities. We have an ethical responsibility, she said, to think about “having clarity about whose social order you’re contributing to and how you’re repeating dominant perspectives and a dominant narrative.”
This is someone who’s educating the next generation of journalists essentially calling for omitting facts and story details if it fails to serve one’s activism. If journalists adhered to this, they would simply cease to be journalists.
“The present crisis of Western democracy is a crisis of journalism,” wrote the legendary American journalist Walter Lippmann in 1920. Not much has changed. If those in the media fret over the lack of trust among the public and the impact this may have on our democratic life, some honest self-analysis is certainly in order.
Shane Miller is a political writer based in London, Ontario.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.