Who do you trust when the world burns?

By Emma Duke, Head of Communications, Oxford Education at Oxford University Press.

I’m really not a fan of the American President. Still, I had a moment the other day when it became apparent how many people believed he had faked a case of the ‘rona. What does it say about a person, that in this time of global pandemic, that so many people would discredit your case of a deadly disease?

Trump is the King of Fake News: whether he’s creating it or accusing you of spreading it, he has sewn distrust into the very fabric of the American political system. But this is a much broader issue.

Thanks to the Reuters Institutes’ Covid News and Information Project, we know that the UK public’s trust in the UK government as a source of information about Covid dropped from 67% in April to only 45% in August. The Lancet recently published an article, detailing ‘The Cummings Effect’ – correlating the significant drop in government trust to Boris’ top advisor’s trip to the Barnard Castle branch of Specsavers during lockdown, his successive denials about that trip and then that ridiculous press conference.

And it’s not just our elected representatives we no longer trust.

Covid has increased an already rapid decline in trust in the media, a third of those asked actually saying the media has made the crisis worse. Not to mention the active ‘news avoidance’ that so many have adopted, at a time when we’re all ready to take any measures necessary to preserve the last dregs of mental health.

So who do we trust right now? Edelman says our employers. Which I agree with, to an extent. If nothing else this crisis has demonstrated the power of a good internal comms team.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, do you want to know what insight-led, highly-rational conclusion I came to? The Bake Off.

Now, I appreciate this isn’t necessarily a catch-all solution, but here’s my thinking: for all its ridiculousness, soggy-bottoms, Hollywood-handshakes and pineapple-upside-down-cake-droppings, the Bake off is perfectly, imperfectly human.

We all need comfort right now and Bake Off is delivering. We may not trust it to deliver the latest local Covid cases per 1,000 people, but we do trust it to do the following:

  • It’s consistent.* We know what’s coming, that it will involve good food, good humour and typical British weather in a tent.
  • It involves people making mistakes and owning up to them (yes Boris and Dom, that was all we were asking for).
  • People supporting people. When we were all locked in our houses trying not to kill each other, there was a moment every week where we could stand, clap (a joyful activity in itself) and remember how good people can be.

It shouldn’t be the case that we resort to trusting a TV programme over our government when we’re surrounded by such fear and dis-information. Boris, stop paying millions for campaigns that sound like my toddler’s version of ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’. Start earning our trust back. Be more human. Make the most of the huge motivation that is people’s desire to support the NHS, teachers, all the other key workers and each other.

*Well, apart from the great BBC-Mary-Mel-&-Sue Treachery of 2017, may we never forget

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