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Canada’s mainstream media news cycle is failing us

COVID-19Media

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians during a televised press conference on the COVID-19 crisis. Still image from YouTube.

In February 2020—just four months ago—if you turned on a news channel in Canada, you would be guaranteed to see non-stop coverage of rail blockades across the country in support of Wet’suwet’en First Nation hereditary chiefs opposing the Coastal Gaslink pipeline.

Near the end of that month, and then in early March, came a sudden turn—the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting China hard. Soon after, Italy and Spain were being decimated. What could be in store for Canada?

By the end of April through to most of May, the economy came to the forefront of the news cycle. COVID-19 was still discussed, but the focus had shifted from the health of our communities to the health of the Bank of Canada.

Now, media coverage has changed lanes once again. This time, the focus is on the Black Lives Matter movement that has blown up in force and magnitude after a police officer in the United States murdered a Black man named George Floyd while three other officers watched. The video of this event went viral, and along with it came a global insurgence calling for justice and police reform and the dismantling of white supremacy.

Then, on June 2, Nanos released its latest polling data for Canada. It pointed to three topics—healthcare, jobs, and the environment—and asked participants which issue was of greatest concern to them. The poll shows that in early January of this year, 20.5 percent of Canadians were most concerned about the environment, polling above jobs and the economy (15.4 percent) and healthcare (12.3 percent). Five months later, the environment dropped to 8.4 percent, and the economy jumped to 22.7 percent. Healthcare remains low on Canadians’ list of priorities, save for a peak in early April when it was the issue of utmost concern at around 15 percent.

The problem with this kind of polling speaks to the very same problem represented by the mainstream media news cycle: separating these topics misleads Canadians into thinking they are singular issues that exist in separate worlds; unconnceted by complex economic, social and political systems. And once an issue disappears from the news cycle, that means it must be solved, right?

We’ve already seen how healthcare and the economy intersect. In 2020, Canada expects to see its GDP contract by 12 percent, the weakest figures on record since 1961. This, of course, is due to border closures and the widespread physical distancing measures enforced by the government to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

On the intersection of climate change and healthcare, just look at Super Cyclone Amphan. In May, this not-so-natural disaster (climate change greatly increases the risk of super cyclones) made its way through India and Bangladesh, the first of its kind in the Bay of Bengal since 1999. Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless due to ongoing coastal flooding. As families are evacuated and grouped together in shelters with limited resources and personal protective equipment (PPE), the risk of contracting coronavirus grows exponentially.

As for the economy, approximately $13.2 billion in damages are estimated just in the state of West Bengal in the fallout of Amphan. In fact, the Economist Intelligence Unit estimates climate impacts to cost the world a total $7.9 trillion by 2050—and that’s just in direct costs.

And now, with the reintroduction of Black Lives Matter into the news cycle, it is not challenging to spot the link between structural racism and the environment. According to the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the impacts of the climate crisis will be felt most by the poor, the elderly, Indigenous peoples, and recent immigrants. It turns out, these are the groups most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

Of course, none of this should be new information. We know, upon logically examining these issues, that it’s really not much of a stretch to deduce how they all seem to pile upon one another; gathering speed and size like a snowball as it rolls down a hill.

Even though issues like the climate crisis, the state of Canada’s long-term care homes, and police brutality against racialized communities are covered in a singular fashion by the mainstream media, these issues continue to make a comeback into the news cycle every few months. They disappear and then they pop back up—usually when there’s a flashy enough headline or story to draw in viewers with short attention spans.

We are shocked by yet another senseless killing of a Black person by the police, or we are disturbed by the displacement of thousands by a massive hurricane, but then the news cycle moves on, and as a result, we move on. Because mainstream media does not critically examine these issues, or analyze how they are connected to global economic and political systems, we are left without the vital information necessary to remain informed and active citizens.

But not everyone has the privilege of moving on. The people most affected by these issues continue to suffer. And the structural and systemic problems remain, which means the flashy news stories will continue to make their way into the news cycle every so often.

Canada’s mainstream media is facing a challenge. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the news cycle to focus on just one issue. Protesters are taking to the streets to call for justice and reform amidst a global pandemic that requires them to physically distance. We are going into the summer drought and forest fire season as the armed forces help to remediate the horrific conditions within our elder care facilities. What’s more, we may even face a potential second wave of COVID-19 as the Canadian economy barely makes it out of the first one.

In 2020, an onslaught of global crises have come hurling towards us all at once. The mainstream media can no longer ignore the fact that these issues are interconnected, and must report on them as such. Until they do, the momentum for justice will continue to reverberate, and fundamental problems will remain unsolved.

Anna Dodd is a writer and currently works as a research assistant for Elizabeth May in the House of Commons. She previously served as editor-in-chief at the University of Victoria’s independent newspaper, the Martlet.

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