By the EESC's Diversity Europe Group

Eating garlic, drinking hot water, avoiding ice cream… You might have come across this advice on the internet as ‘tips’ to avoid catching COVID-19. I recently spoke with a friend - I won’t mention any names - and she said that it was so frustrating not being able to find real information on the virus.  

Trust in the media - that's the big concern. The other day I spent an hour and ten minutes on the phone talking to a farmer, a member of my organisation LTO (Land- en Tuinbouw Organisatie, the Dutch Agricultural and Horticultural Association), and I had my work cut out countering all the conspiracy theories he believes in. It was early March.

What I told him was that a lot of the information out there is badly edited material made to raise the number of views – crucial for the writer’s CV – which is then distributed through social media by people looking for confirmation of their prejudices. But of course, the reality around the virus is much more complicated. Then there are also deep fakes.

It is sad to see that even President Trump is himself spreading misinformation while castigating the ‘fake news media’ and his political opponents. At the start of the pandemic he said the virus was a ‘hoax’; this was not just ‘misleading’, but an outright lie. Asked on March 12 if he accepted responsibility for the testing problems, he said: “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Words that are going to haunt him for the rest of his mandate.

If we learn anything from this crisis, it must be the need for reliable information from trusted media. And there are still many such media, luckily, although they have been hit by budget cuts. People want trusted, independent information and yes, they know where to find it. Hopefully my farmer knows this too by now.

For an impartial journalist the challenge remains of when to pass on the best, most trustworthy information, and when to avoid slipping into government propaganda. I am sure many are grappling with that dilemma. But when some are saying they don’t trust the media anymore and don’t know where to turn for reliable information on COVID-19, they cannot be looking very hard.

Oh yes, my farmer thanked me for taking so much time on the phone. That doesn’t happen to him every day, he said. 

Klaas Johan Osinga, EESC member