Good advice

Enough Of The Self-appointed Covid-19 “Experts”!

April 1, 2020
4 mins read

PAT PILCHER is fed up with idiots who think they know better than the Government or their expert advisors.


Good advice

Last Saturday Stuff published an opinion piece on what the government did wrong when it came to keeping Corona Virus out of NZ. An epidemiologist didn’t write it. Nor was it penned by a virologist or Government policy wonk. The opinion was written by a lecturer in public relations from Massey University, Steve Elers.

Elers may be knowledgeable when it comes to matters that are cultural or PR related, but he is no authority on Covid-19 or government policy. It’s less than a week since the four-week lockdown began, and I’m already so utterly tired of armchair experts weighing in on Covid-19 matters when they possess little real knowledge of it, let alone any relevant qualifications with which to intelligently comment in the media.

Put bluntly, I don’t give a shit what a PR lecturer has to say says about Covid-19 or the Government. Right now, the optics and public relations perspectives surrounding this crisis don’t really seem to count for a pinch of shit as people get sick and die.

At times like these media needs to keep a lid on the bull

Reading the opinion piece, I felt that I could probably get more useful information by chatting with my elderly neighbours from a safe distance over the fence.

I’ve written before about the woeful state of punditry in New Zealand’s media, and this is yet another example of just what’s so wrong.

If Elers had published his opinion online, or via social media, that’d be one thing, but his rancid rant was posted by one of New Zealand’s major daily media outlets. As such, his opinion was not only widely read, but is also likely perceived by many as carrying a significant amount of weight and credibility.

Sadly, the content of the story was anything but credible, consisting of a repetitive rant at the government for not immediately closing New Zealand’s borders at the first sign of Covid-19. Elers did seek additional opinion, but its expertise is at best questionable. The writer says that: “My colleague, who has been enthusiastically doing his own modelling of Covid-19 since January, was telling all who would listen that we need to shut down our borders.”

We’ve got to give the real experts a chance to do their thing

Sadly, we’re not told how suitably qualified this colleague was to make such a big call. That said, the other expert quoted was at least a doctor;

“…My wife’s 100-year-old grandmother, a retired medical doctor, said the same thing about the same time. She wasn’t born when the Spanish flu kicked off, but she’s old enough to remember the horror stories of it.”

Here’s the thing. Using the Covid disaster to take a poke at the Government isn’t constructive, and right now, it isn’t all that helpful either. The one thing that seems to continually elude these armchair experts is that hindsight may be a beautiful thing, but it’s also a luxury that not even the most well-informed governments of the world had at the beginning of the pandemic. Most telling of all, the government has access to information that the Elers, his colleague or 100-year-old mother in law doesn’t. Might it just be that the Government is better informed and therefore in a better decision to make policy decisions than a public relations lecturer?

Political opportunism aside, the opinion piece also verges in being woefully irresponsible by saying: “I’m not a lawyer or legal expert, but what I do know is that your rights to freedom of movement and assembly have been impinged by an incompetent Government that has put tens of thousands of lives at risk.”

Opinions should come from credible sources

Elers’ argument also seemingly manages to kick itself in the balls. He says the government should have locked everything down, but then goes on to say that the Government is trampling all over our rights by initiating a lockdown? How does that actually work?

Flawed logic aside, those who are actually in the know – medical professionals – appear to be in agreement that a lockdown is our best chance of reducing the harm caused by Covid-19.

There’s also little doubt that not “impinging” the rights of Kiwis would end badly given how Covid-19 is transmitted.

This is best summed up by a particularly credible source, the US Centre for Disease Control. 

“The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

The upshot of this is that having less movement can only slow rates of infection. I’ll happily rescind my rights to freedom of movement for a few months if it means I don’t cause any harm to others or myself. That isn’t governmental incompetence, it is called being considerate of others. Economies and businesses will recover, but dead people won’t.

Publishing this sort of rubbish may play well for our media who know full well that they can cash in on the outrage it provokes. Some people may agree with Elers’ opinions, but for one of New Zealand’s major daily newspapers to publish his views is, in my opinion, both reckless and irresponsible.

Enough of the pundits whose aim is simply to create unrest

The Coronavirus pandemic isn’t a game of tiddlywinks. People are dying. It certainly shouldn’t be treated as an opportunity to generate some quick click-through revenue by our media. While most Kiwis have behaved sensibly and considerately, this piece isn’t helpful and it certainly isn’t useful. With New Zealand recording its first death from Covid-19, taking cheap shots at the Government’s Coronavirus strategy is, again, in my opinion, in poor taste.

What’s needed are clearly communicated and verifiable facts. These should come from credible medical and infectious disease experts so that the public can make the best-informed decisions possible. By doing so, the odds of them avoiding infection or death improve significantly. Having a public relations lecturer spray their poorly informed reckonings on an unsuspecting public could even be dangerous.

Elers and Stuff may argue that the Government’s performance on this issue should be open to public debate and scrutiny, but here is the thing. After over 700 comments (most of which were scathing) Stuff locked commenting. Perhaps they didn’t really want so much scrutiny after all?

This begs the question be asked – just where can you get factually correct information on Covid-19? Stuff has yet again demonstrated they are not a source of impartial and useful information. The good oil on the Coronavirus is easily found at the Ministry Of Health website. 

We at Witchdoctor hope you and your families stay safe by following credible advice from actual experts. We recommend that you treat similar stories in the media with a healthy dose of scepticism. Your life and those of your family may depend on it.


Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

1 Comment

  1. This is exactly what I thought when I saw the same Stuff article. Well put! I’m pretty much at the point where the only NZ news website I can tolerate is Radio New Zealand and I get my international news from the Guardian and the New York Times. I think it’s socially irresponsible for sites like Stuff to publish useless articles like this – especially so prominently. Thanks for the commentary Pat.

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