‘Just doing something shameful’

Weighing pandemic rights and responsibilities

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Amid the flags, signs and trailers that greeted me when I stepped outside my front door last month, one cluster of people caught my attention. It was the morning of Feb. 4, and a journalist stood at the crosswalk connecting Broadway and Memorial, interviewing unmasked protestors.

At the time, I feared both for that reporter’s safety and what the Freedom Convoy demonstrators might say.

In the weeks since, journalists covering the occupations in Ottawa, Winnipeg and at the Canada-United States border have been “openly slandered, spit on and assaulted.” The Washington Post describes the protesters as “apparent white nationalists” who hoist Nazi and Confederate imagery while “jeering at mask-wearing passersby” and “jolting residents awake by blaring their ear-splitting horns.”

These people are hardly reliable sources, yet I understand why news organizations in Canada and around the world repeatedly reach out for interviews. This occupation was a spectacle. BuzzFeed News describes the protest as “a new model for how to bring a government to a crisis.”

I don’t question whether the Freedom Convoy is newsworthy, but I wonder how responsible it is to continually broadcast their supporters’ claims.

Media outlets “provide forums for the free interchange of information and opinion” and “seek to include views from all segments of the population,” according to the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics guidelines. However, they must also “serve the public interest and put the needs of (the) audience – readers, listeners or viewers – at the forefront of ... newsgathering decisions.”

That intersection of Broadway and Memorial is now clear of protestors, but their memory lingers, as do their discarded signs and the claims and rally cries local media continually broadcasted.

Canada, like the America Thomas L. Friedman condemns in a New York Times column, has become a place where “everyone has rights and no one has responsibilities.” He articulates how podcaster Joe Rogan spreading “anti-vaccine propaganda” is “about something more than free speech.”

Spotify exclusively hosts The Joe Rogan Experience, which charted as their most-popular podcast in 2021. As Friedman writes, “when Rogan exercised his right to spread misinformation about vaccines, and when Spotify stood behind its biggest star, they were doing nothing illegal. They were just doing something shameful.”

The Joe Rogan Experience regularly reaches about 11 million listeners per episode, all of whom Spotify willfully exposed to Rogan’s dangerous and inaccurate rhetoric. The streaming service acts as if any credible arguments against public-health orders, vaccinations and basic human decency exist – and so do many news organizations.

In their rush to cover mandate dissidents, reporters, editors and producers simultaneously and perhaps unintentionally give them a platform to spread their messages of hate, mistrust and confusion.

When the Freedom Convoy first descended on Winnipeg’s streets, I tried to save every news article that quoted the protestors but failed to cite accurate information about the virus and Canadian charter rights – let alone reactions from the residents whose lives they disrupted. The short-lived exercise was both illuminating and exhausting.

Articles like these obfuscate the truth and promote a one-sided fabrication of the story. In the week before the local chapter of the convoy dissolved, I was still nervous when I saw a reporter approach the remaining protestors with a microphone in hand. I’ve been that tentative but determined journalist. Now, I’m also a fearful audience member who has seen too many people fall for the misinformation they see on TV or hear in a podcast.

Danielle Doiron is a creative and educator who splits her time between Winnipeg, Philadelphia and small Midwestern towns. Catch them reading, procrastinating or defending the pineapple on pizza.

Published in Volume 76, Number 19 of The Uniter (March 2, 2022)

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