Fake news is ‘game’ pow­er­ful coun­tries use to sway pub­lic opin­ion: Alexan­dria Me­dia Fo­rum speak­ers

If you can­not pub­lish the whole truth, at least re­veal some of it

The Daily News Egypt - - FRONT PAGE - By Fatma Lotfi Ahmed Es­mat, founder and CEO of the fo­rum.


Fact-check­ing has been al­ways a cornerstone of ev­ery jour­nal­ist in the world’s work, as their main role is to in­ves­ti­gate information and data they gather, to pro­vide so­ci­ety with ac­cu­rate news, try­ing to curb the spread of fake news as much as pos­si­ble. In the era of so­cial me­dia and the ease of cre­at­ing and post­ing fake pho­tos, videos, even in so­called trusted me­dia, that mis­sion is get­ting harder.

In or­der to counter fake news, Alexan­dria Me­dia Fo­rum launched its sixth edi­tion from 15 to 17 April, ti­tled Tech­nol­ogy, Me­dia, and PostTruth, with a wide at­ten­dance of Egyp­tian and foreign speak­ers, as well as at­ten­dees from var­i­ousArab coun­tries at the Egypt-Ja­pan Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy in Borg El-Arab,Alexan­dria.

“If you can­not pub­lish the whole truth, at least re­veal some of it,” said Ihab Ze­laky, ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­torin-chief at Al-Masry Al-Youm, who added, “jour­nal­ism is a dan­ger­ous pro­fes­sion, which means that it can’t tell the whole truth un­der any cir­cum­stances.”

He noted, “[jour­nal­ists] try so hard to tell what we could re­veal of the truth with­out fal­si­fy­ing it. If jour­nal­ists find them­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where they will fake the truth while cov­er­ing sen­si­tive is­sues, then it’s bet­ter not to write about these is­sues at all.”

Ze­laky dis­cussed in a panel on the first day of the fo­rum the “fine line be­tween fake news and cen­sor­ship,” along with Anna He­denmo, a Swedish jour­nal­ist and tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter. He dis­cussed the con­se­quences of me­dia re­stric­tions and cen­sor­ship in Egypt in the past months that led to the block­ing of more than 450 me­dia web­sites, ac­cord­ing to a recent re­port from the As­so­ci­a­tion for Free­dom of Thought and Ex­pres­sion.

“It’s an end­less con­flict be­tween jour­nal­ists and au­thor­i­ties. Some­times regimes suc­ceed in lim­it­ing free­dom of speech and press, how­ever jour­nal­ists can find an­other medium,” noted Ze­laky, adding, “cen­sor­ship fu­els fake news.”

Mean­while, he ex­plained, “cen­sor­ship is def­i­nitely in­creas­ing fake news be­cause it leads to block­ing cred­i­ble me­dia out­lets, which leads to the en­trap­ment of real jour­nal­ism as well as free ac­cess to information.”

Ze­laky also said, “in coun­tries where there is no press free­dom, states usu­ally jus­tify their ac­tions by cit­ing po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and what they de­fine as ‘crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions.’” Some of these sit­u­a­tions, Ze­laky ex­plained, can be due to “wars on ter­ror­ism. How­ever, no me­dia out­let can work un­der such cir­cum­stances.”

“Although we, jour­nal­ists, be­lieve that our role is to serve the pub­lic good,” Ze­laky noted,“noth­ing is more im­por­tant than our lives and safety.”

Fac­ing dif­fi­cul­ties when work­ing is not a new el­e­ment in the pro­fes­sion, ac­cord­ing to Ze­laky, say­ing that jour­nal­ists are of­ten pre­vented from ac­cess­ing information. Fur­ther­more, the real prob­lem is “the pub­lic is op­pos­ing, more and more, free­dom of press and ex­pres­sion,” he ex­plained.

“They don’t ac­cept any­thing that is con­trary to of­fi­cial state­ments on any is­sue,” he said.

On coun­ter­ing fake news,he said, “there are coun­tries, regimes, or bod­ies around the world that take ad­van­tage of the fake news game, us­ing it to sway pub­lic opin­ion amid floods of false information and il­lu­sions to keep eyes away from sig­nif­i­cant on­go­ing is­sues. Hu­man minds, when things are just re­peated, be­lieve it with­out ques­tion­ing whether they are true or not.”

Over three days,sev­eral speak­ers con­ducted ses­sions on the is­sues of fake news, me­dia ethics, me­dia in the age of al­go­rithms, as well as fact-check­ing and news ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

Derek Thom­son, ed­i­tor-in-chief at the France 24 Ob­servers said, “fact-check­ing helps to cor­rect spe­cific in­stances of fake news, and this serves the pub­lic good be­cause peo­ple can be fooled by what is fake.”

The France 24 Ob­servers is a col­lab­o­ra­tive site pre­sented in four lan­guages (French, English, Ara­bic, and Farsi) and a TV show on France 24 (with a weekly and monthly edi­tion). It cov­ers in­ter­na­tional cur­rent af­fairs by us­ing eye­wit­ness ac­counts, hence the name “ob­servers.”

“The most im­por­tant im­pact of our work is ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic about the dan­gers of fake news,” Thom­son noted, adding that it can be “im­pos­si­ble for jour­nal­ists to in­ves­ti­gate ev­ery piece of fake news quickly be­fore it gets shared on so­cial me­dia.”

“How­ever, we can give or­di­nary peo­ple some tools and tricks to be aware of fake news, so they can think be­fore share any­thing,” he ex­plained.

Thom­son pointed out that ev­ery news or­gan­i­sa­tion has to build its own cred­i­bil­ity with its read­ers and then main­tain this cred­i­bil­ity by not tak­ing risks with the truth and never try­ing to ma­nip­u­late the pub­lic.

“If me­dia out­lets are con­sis­tently ac­cu­rate and give fact-based, deep re­port­ing, then they will win au­di­ence trust,” he said.The most sig­nif­i­cant prin­ci­ple which Ob­servers re­lies on, ac­cord­ing to Thom­son, is to ver­ify ev­ery­thing be­fore shar­ing or pass­ing it on.

“The is­sue of fake news is get­ting worse be­cause we are still in a pe­riod of tran­si­tion mov­ing from tra­di­tional me­dia to so­cial me­dia, but I am op­ti­mistic for the fu­ture, that peo­ple will be able to use more tools to know if information is ac­cu­rate or fake,” he noted.

Mean­while, on the tools that have be­come more avail­able than be­fore,Ahmed El-Shamy, a vet­eran Egyp­tian jour­nal­ist spe­cialised in in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism and new dig­i­tal me­dia tools, led two ses­sions on how to ver­ify ev­ery photo and video shared on so­cial me­dia, or even on news web­sites, by us­ing Google Earth, Google Maps, InVID, Dual Maps, SunCalc, and oth­ers.

“Each jour­nal­ist can eval­u­ate ex­actly what they need. When they can­not reach a place or of­fi­cial information, they should rely on eye­wit­nesses and their own tech­no­log­i­cal tools to con­firm the information,” said El-Shamy.

Whilst such tools be­come ex­tremely vi­tal for each re­porter, El-Shamy noted that news or­gan­i­sa­tions should take into con­sid­er­a­tion the on­go­ing changes in dig­i­tal me­dia, and should train their jour­nal­ists to use such tools and de­velop their meth­ods of re­port­ing.

“When a door closes, oth­ers open. Some­times it’s bet­ter to search for information or data on­line, and ver­ify it with­out call­ing sources that may refuse to give you ac­cu­rate information,” he noted.

As jour­nal­ists around the world have cho­sen a dan­ger­ous job, He­denmo, the Swedish jour­nal­ist, be­lieves that such gath­er­ings, such as me­dia fo­rums or con­fer­ences, are very use­ful, as a way to help and sup­port strug­gling jour­nal­ists around the world.

“I know it can be dan­ger­ous to tell the truth in some coun­tries, which have low lev­els of free­dom of speech,” she said, adding that jour­nal­ists should stand in sol­i­dar­ity with each other.

He­denmo also added that Alexan­dria Me­dia Fo­rum gave her “hope for the fu­ture of jour­nal­ism,” ex­press­ing her plea­sure at the wide par­tic­i­pa­tion of women.

On the other hand, she be­lieves “fake news has al­ways been around, but it has now got­ten a name from US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.” She added that there are al­ways lies in the news,es­pe­cially in dic­ta­tor­ships and dur­ing war­fare, but she said jour­nal­ists should avoid mis­truths in such sit­u­a­tions.

“Maybe you can’t tell it all, but don’t ever lie,” she noted.

TheAlexan­dria Me­dia Fo­rum had re­ceived 1,209 ap­pli­ca­tions, but ac­cepted only 200 par­tic­i­pants from Le­banon, Egypt, Jor­dan, and Morocco. “This is the big­gest num­ber of par­tic­i­pants we have ever had in the fo­rum,” said Ahmed Es­mat, founder and CEO of the fo­rum.

He added, “this is only a step to pre­vent fake news, and we be­lieve that rais­ing aware­ness will counter false information,” which he as­serts has been “po­lit­i­cally used to harm so­ci­eties on eco­nomic and hu­man­i­tar­ian terms.”

Ahmed El-Shamy, an Egyp­tian jour­nal­ist spe­cialised in in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism

Ihab Ze­laky, ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor-inchief at Al-Masry Al-Youm

Anna He­denmo, a Swedish jour­nal­ist and tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter.

Derek Thom­son, ed­i­tor-in-chief at the France 24 Ob­servers

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Egypt

© PressReader. All rights reserved.