Pandemic Called Fake News

Examples of and Countermeasures to Fake News and The Future of the Journalism at WJC 2020

Forging global relations, the World Journalists Conference 2020 focused on a problem that has pervaded our world, colored our thinking and troubled our senses — fake news.

The conference is an annual ritual by the Journalists Association of Korea which started in 2013. For the last seven years, they have been inviting colleagues from across the world to showcase the beautiful country of South Korea and focus is on the peace between the two Koreas. While peace has been evasive in the last 70 years, the intent and steps continue. During this process, they have created a platform which promotes friendliness and public diplomacy. With COVID-19 bringing travel to a halt, this year the three-day conference (September 14–16) was held on Zoom with 95 participants.

With the advent of the internet, the world became a global village. And with the advent of social media platforms, we have found a place to express ourselves. Whether these expressions are true, momentary or simply a joke is the big story. With no regulation or check-post, news floats anywhere and everywhere. There is no rein. Print journalism and slow methods of searching for plausible stories, authentic sources and good copies are wrapped in shades of grey. As the words get shorter, attention gets thinner, news gets more chaotic.

I have always been more of a magazine journalist. I began my career in 1999 and all my stories then were around 3,000 words. They covered various angles of the subject and only credible sources were interviewed and quoted. In 22 years, the journey has shown me another world in journalism. After news magazines and newspapers, television became a faster way of getting news. And then the storm came and now we don’t know what is coming from where, who is the journalist, which media house it is from, who began it and who reports it. There is information and there is misinformation. With this background, let me share the experiences and thoughts of colleagues from other countries:

1. Min-Kyu Lee, Univ. Professor, School of Media and Communication, Chung-Ang, Korea pointed out that “information is power, the accuracy of information is critical.”

He went to elucidate, “Media scholar Pablo Boczkowski criticized fake news as a threat to democracy. In reality, fake news will last as a topic of debate because very powerful groups and individuals on all sides have something to sell: ideologies, products, and services.” However, fake news is not new — it is a kind of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. It leads to Sensational, Hatred, One way, Connection, and killing — in short ‘SHOCK’. There are different types of fake news and categories are political control type, economic oriented type (clickbait type), revolutionary type, merriment and satire type.

The best ways to counter this is to build trust and keep it alive, share and educate the public on the way the story came out, how we arrived at a particular story, how facts are gathered, what should be considered as fact and why. The need of the hour is to take a “deeper interest and research more than ever before”.

He also suggested that to do this, a “task force of journalists worldwide, who care deeply about democracy and the freedom of speech under the COVID-19 era,” is required. “When fake news hits, we need to hit back, vigorously. We seriously need to take care of the public. We must invest resources for un-faking news, and fact-check them. The role we have of helping citizens to develop media literacy skills is one of the important virtues of future journalism.”

Similar sentiments echoed throughout the three-hour session.

2. Mashiul Alam, Senior Assistant Editor, The Daily Prothom Alo, Bangladesh, said he often receives phone calls from friends and relatives, and sometimes even from unknown persons, who ask him about the authenticity of the article they have seen on Facebook, While his newspaper is a trusted one, “there are not many trustworthy newsrooms in Bangladesh”. He cited that “hate speeches and conspiracy theories go viral very fast, and the task of fact-checking takes some time, they can create serious social tension sometimes. Especially, fake news created and circulated intentionally to hurt religious feelings of a certain community can lead to communal riots. Bangladesh, unfortunately, has had some sad experiences in recent years, when religious minority groups had been attacked after some fake news gone viral on Facebook. Their houses and temples had been burnt by angry mobs before the professional media outlets succeeded to confirm the people that the news was not news at all, but a blatant rumor fabricated intentionally to instigate them.”

3. Interestingly, UNESCO Cambodia and the Ministry of Information have released a handbook on journalism education and training entitled ‘Fake News and Disinformation’ revealed Rethea Pann, Sub-editor /Reporter with The Post Media Co. ltd .in Cambodia. The book, aims to encourage journalists to verify their facts and ensure accuracy before publishing articles on public media platforms.

4. Margaret Ojalvo, Freelance Director and Journalist, Oja Noticias, El Mundo al intante, Colombia, stated how “social networks are implementing controls and protocols to identify and block users who spread false information… Facebook, with 2.45 billion monthly active users and in the second quarter of 2020 its total revenues amounted USD$18.7 billion, said that it is preparing measures and technological solutions to face fake news. Twitter announced a zero-tolerance policy to manipulation of information on platforms. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, millions of fake articles and posts regarding coronavirus have been detected. Only the social network Facebook said it had identified some 100 million cases of misinformation on the subject and removed 7 million.”

As traditional print media across the globe embraces digital journalism, it faces multiple challenges. The internet has large media houses, small media houses, and then there are blogs. “It is an immense range that does not comply in all cases with the journalistic manuals in ethics, style, writing and don’t include, at least, two credible and serious sources in articles or stories they publish. Today with a mobile it is easy to tell a video story, or upload a podcast with and interview or a traffic accident. Anyone can ask and anyone can answer. The question is who is the reporter and who is the source? The source is vital, the facts are fundamental, the journalist must be a professional with knowledge of the topics, analytical skills, common sense and a good writer or storyteller. One source is never enough. The minimum is two. The journalist should ask as much as possible and record the interview to have it on file and to help their memory.”

5. Mohammad Nasir, Director of Public Services of Indonesian Journalists’ Association (PWI), talked about “purifying the information, which is not easy to do because it is the big project that cannot be finished for one month. It takes several years for doing it. It is a big job, and need to do seriously and continuously. We have known that journalism has been surrounded by fake news, disinformation, and misinformation (false or inaccurate information). The cacophony of disinformation in social media often leak to the press media, and as soon as will drown the real information, and the media itself. So now, let’s fight against the roots of fake news.”

6. Frank McNally is chief writer of the daily Irishman’s Diary column in The Irish Times. He gave an introduction to the history of fake news. “So often has Donald Trump complained about it in the past four years that it may be necessary to remind ourselves he did not invent the term “fake news”. I recently searched for it in the archive of my own newspaper, The Irish Times, and was surprised to find that the earliest mention had been well over 100 years ago, in 1908. It featured in the report of a debate in the British Houses of Parliament, where an Irish representative raised the question of false stories in the British press about violence in Ireland. Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom then, ruled from London, although for many years it had been campaigning for legislative independence. It suited opponents of that campaign, in a classic imperialist tactic, to present Ireland as a wild, lawless country, unfit to govern itself and needing the civilising influence of Britain. Stories of violent crime were frequently exaggerated, if not invented, by the London press, hence the parliamentarian’s complaint.”

7. Rosalin Garganera, Chief of Staff/Broadcaster, Asian Journalist Association, Philippines gave some good pointers on identifying fake news:

- There is no credible source cited, and the medium itself (website, Facebook page or twitter handle, e.g.) is relatively new. Sometimes, the channel or medium attempts to present itself as another legitimate news organization.

- When the post or article is full of emotional or explicit language. The content is extremist in its positions and is very polarizing most of the times.

- When politicians or powerful people make pronouncements or attack individuals and organizations, but do not justify any legal or policy basis.

- When the presenter (author or account-owner) has just set-up the account recently and actually has very few followers.

- When the article or the image is revising historical facts.

She also shared the five best practices being used by Filipino journalists to fight fake news:

- Watchdog association of media practitioners and professionals that do “self-regulation” and counter-checking of news. Some examples are

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), MindaNews, Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

- More contextual and critical reporting of news. Not simply “straight facts” anymore.

- Use of digital tools to help the reporter and the editor to verify and “fact-check” the source or the news itself. For example — First Draft News, Bellingcat’s Digital Forensics Tools, The Listening Post Collective and #StopTheSpread by NUJP and the CMFR

- Publicize erratum or corrections immediately.

- Have an in-house “reader advocate” or an internal ombudsman to do “self-check” within the news organization.

Coming to India, a recent survey by media consulting firm Ormax Media shows that in terms of credibility, print media comes first scoring 62% on the news credibility index, followed by radio with 57% and TV news with 56%.

These are excerpts from the conference. You can see the entire session at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQKE9etMfMQ&feature=youtu.be

India-based journalist, photographer and videographer, worked with Outlook Traveller, Swagat and written for patriot.in. Mail: ambicagulati@gmail.com

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