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  • Writer's pictureKlondike Kate

They're not stupid, you're dangerous

WHITEHORSE - Failure of news outlets is damaging public trust

On April 9, CBC Yukon chose to ridicule Yukoners who were protesting government COVID-19 restrictions and lack of transparency

As the number and severity of COVID-19 cases in the Yukon rise to the level of outbreak, the Government of Yukon is laying blame at the feet of residents who can't or don't want to get vaccinated.

The blame game has seemingly been designed to vilify a portion of the Yukon's population and portray them as "uneducated" in order to pressurize them into doing what the government tells them to do.

Several government news releases published over the past week have chosen to focus heavily on the link between unvaccinated people and the growing spread of COVID-19 in the territory.

The releases completely ignore the fact that the timing of the outbreak coincides with the government's launch of the 'Great Yukon Summer' tourism campaign on June 4 or its major rolling back of previous restrictions on May 25 which included strict limits on group gatherings and mandatory self-isolation for people entering the territory.

None of the releases deal in any meaningful way with the fact that at least three fully vaccinated Yukoners have fallen ill with the virus and could have spread it onto others.

All of the releases are avoiding information-sharing that could conflict with the government's agenda and are instead churning out the same old lines such as "person is self-isolating and recovering at home."

Political pawns

The government news releases have been lapped up and regurgitated by local news outlets with barely any scrutiny of the content and no mention of either the launch of the Great Yukon Summer campaign or the rolled back restrictions.

The Yukon News and CBC Yukon, in particular, have failed to provide any analysis of how or why the releases were crafted the way they were. Their reporting portrays a reluctance to do any digging whatsoever.

Only the Whitehorse Star has opted to include journalism in its reporting by hinting at inconsistencies or gaps in the content of the releases as well as statements made by Yukon's CMO Brendan Hanley and DCMO Catherine Elliott.

By choosing to simply regurgitate government messaging, Yukon's news outlets are allowing themselves to become political pawns.

The outlets are also contributing to the public health risks posed by COVID-19 by helping sow seeds of distrust in public institutions.

In April, the Washington Post reported on how some countries' governments are cracking down on news outlets that don't support their public health restrictions. In the Yukon, no such crack down would be required given the ease of media cooperation with the ruling parties' agenda.

Spin machine

According to the Government of Yukon's budget reporting, it spends over $10M a year on communications branches across its departments. The role of these communications branches is twofold.

Firstly, communications branches are tasked with putting out messaging that support policies and agendas that the ruling politicians want to push through.

Secondly, the branches try to cover up mistakes made by the government, or at least spin those mistakes so they don't seem as bad as they actually are.

This is why reporters like CBC Yukon's Jackie Hong have such a hard time getting access to government records that are supposed to be legally available and accessible to the general public.

The government likes to control what the public knows and doesn't know. It uses its communications to justify its decisions.

For unknown reasons, Yukon news outlets seem to completely forget this reality each and every time they report on the government's official COVID-19 messaging.

Biased reporting

One of the best examples of the extent of media bias in the territory is CBC Yukon's reporting on an April 9 protest in Whitehorse against COVID-19 restrictions and lack of government transparency.

The author Philipe Morin wrote a heavily biased piece that spoke in disparaging terms about the protestors. At one point Morin claimed that the protestors "shared misinformation about health risks posed by masks and vaccines."

Morin didn't explain or provide any support for his claim that the protestors shared misinformation. He failed also to say whether the claim represented a personal opinion, an expert opinion, or something else.

The story was framed entirely in government-speak and regularly-regurgitated terms such as "no active cases."

At the outset of the pandemic, government press releases used to say "no confirmed cases" but that changed to "no active cases" in May 2020. News outlets quickly adopted the hyper-spun term without ever questioning its veracity.

The reality is that the politicians can't truthfully say "no active cases" when it's perfectly possible that there are active cases that simply haven't yet been captured by tests.

Apparently that distinction is not important to Yukon's news outlets, all of whom neglected to mention, much less analyze, the spin.

Stupid is as stupid does

There is a stark contrast between CBC Yukon's coverage of anti-government protests and its coverage of government messaging.

Typically, CBC Yukon stories that report on what the government wants to say about COVID-19 are heavy on regurgitation, littered with quotes from government spokespeople, and devoid of any investigation of the facts.

In light of this, are people who decide not to get vaccinated stupid to distrust the Yukon's official news outlets?

Elliott and Hanley effectively ask people to trust their advice over different advice and simply ignore the fact that they are paid massively by the government to tow the party line.

During the recent election campaign, Hanley told the public that he couldn't make changes to COVID-19 restrictions until after the election.

At his first post-election public briefing, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver inadvertently contradicted Hanley by saying restrictions could be changed "anytime during the election."

The awkward moment between Silver and Hanley demonstrated the extent to which politicians control the public health advice, even if that advice comes from the mouth of the CMO or DCMO.

So, is it fair to call people stupid for not trusting the government's medical spokespeople?

Silver's government is one of the least transparent governments in recent Yukon history. For the past four years, his government has been pulling out all of the stops and spending millions of taxpayer dollars on legal battles to hide public information from the public.

Silver's government is constantly in and out of court fighting ATIPP requests and blocking the Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay from doing her job.

Is it fair to call people stupid for not trusting this government?

Mocking the 'uneducated'

On top of all of this, Liberal Party politicians have been known to condescend to Yukon Party politicians who ask for greater transparency around the COVID-19 decision-making process.

This type of mocking emboldens CBC Yukon to mock protestors and emboldens Yukoners all across social media to mock and talk down to people who have decided to not get vaccinated.

People who decide not to get vaccinated are not 'uneducated' as implied by the government and news outlets. They are educated. It's just that their education is different because they distrust Yukon sources and seek information elsewhere.

The bias, arrogance and mocking serve only to further alienate people and reinforce an individual's belief that vaccines can't be trusted.

Until the government and media stop their dangerous game of labeling people as 'uneducated' and start focusing instead on why those people don't trust them, the vaccination rate in the territory is going to stall out.

If that happens, the danger level for all Yukoners will increase as people grow more relaxed and naturally take more risks.


Editors' note: Whitewash News is receiving intense criticism over its lack of journalistic integrity. It's good to know that people are reading our content and care enough to respond to it. Aside from that, we never claimed to be journalists. The president of the Yukon Liberal Party Emily Farrell recently spoke publicly about the lack of journalistic integrity contained in our exposé on the massive contracts awarded to the Yukon's DCMO and CMO and suggested there was more to the story. Farrell declined to add more to the story or explain away the contract amounts. So what we would say in response to this particular criticism is that nobody to date has been able to discredit the facts we have been publishing. If you want to know whether something we present as being true is actually true, just contact the Yukon Government and ask questions. If you get no answer, or if they are slow to answer, there is your answer.

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