‘Fake news’ de­bate call to re­gain me­dia in­tegrity

Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val’s ‘Think!Fest’ pan­el­lists dis­cuss mis­in­for­ma­tion

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - SHIN­GAI DARANGWA

LIES, mis­in­for­ma­tion and pro­pa­ganda aren’t new con­cepts in the world of news me­dia. But, of late, there seems to be an am­pli­fied level of dis­hon­esty dis­sem­i­nated through con­ven­tional me­dia and so­cial me­dia.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has taken to us­ing the term “fake news” in an at­tempt to dis­credit in­for­ma­tion he doesn’t agree with.

Closer to home, the Gup­tas have been on the re­ceiv­ing end of scathing news re­ports over the years and they too have cried wolf about be­ing the tar­gets of mis­in­for­ma­tion and some sort of al­leged white mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal­ist con­spir­acy.

As part of the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val’s Think!Fest – a se­ries of dis­cus­sions and lec­tures on a range of top­ics – the Fake News De­bate saw sev­eral es­tab­lished pan­el­lists sit to­gether to de­bate and ex­plore “fake news” and un­pack the cri­sis of mis­in­for­ma­tion.

Chaired by Anthea Gar­man, the de­bate panel in­cluded for­mer Mail & Guardian and Huff Post SA edi­tor-in-chief Verashni Pil­lay and Edi­tor of News24 Adri­aan Bas­son.

Bas­son opened the de­bate with some back­ground on the re­cent ex­posé leaks which were un­earthed by the amaBhun­gane in­ves­tiga­tive unit and dis­sem­i­nated through a joint op­er­a­tion with News24 and Daily Mav­er­ick.

He spoke about how since the in­for­ma­tion was leaked to the pub­lic, he and some of his col­leagues have re­ceived threats at their homes.

He dis­cussed Trump’s jour­ney to the White House and the co­in­cid­ing rise of far-right US news, opin­ion and com­men­tary web­site, Bre­it­bart.

Bre­it­bart has grown ex­po­nen­tially over the past two years and is viewed by many as a key role player in Trump’s vic­tory in the US elec­tions. He also en­gaged var­i­ous types of mis­in­for­ma­tion and how “twit­ter bots” are un­leashed to flood our time­lines with mis­in­for­ma­tion.

Pan­el­list Thandi Smith, who is the head of the pol­icy unit at Me­dia Mon­i­tor­ing Africa, weighed in by ex­plain­ing how she deals with mis­in­for­ma­tion and how it is the me­dia’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­gain the pub­lic’s trust.

Kayla Roux, who is a dig­i­tal me­dia lec­turer at Rhodes Univer­sity, re­vealed how her stu­dents have told her that they some­times tweet, like and share sto­ries they haven’t read merely based on the head­line. She also ex­plained how Face­book’s al­go­rithm di­rects im­bal­anced and bi­ased con­tent to your timeline and how this can place one in an echo cham­ber.

This al­go­rithm, she ex­plained, looks at what pages you like, what groups you’re in (as well as other en­gage­ments you have via the so­cial net­work) and uses this in­for­ma­tion to fil­ter what you see.

Hil­lary Clin­ton’s sur­prise loss in the US elec­tion is of­ten at­trib­uted to this “bub­ble” as many of us were sub­jected to an echo cham­ber that ex­cluded views other than our own.

To counter this prob­lem, Roux sub­scribes to var­i­ous groups, each with op­pos­ing views, in or­der to al­low for a wide pool of in­for­ma­tion from which to draw.

Mark Op­pen­heimer, who is a prac­tis­ing ad­vo­cate and writer, dis­cussed the con­cept of “al­ter­na­tive facts”. The term was coined by Trump’s coun­sel­lor, Kellyanne Con­way after White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer made false claims that Trump’s pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion at­ten­dance num­bers where the high­est to date.

Op­pen­heimer in­ter­ro­gated this no­tion and ex­plained how the value of truth­ful re­port­ing has been re­duced by such an open and un­apolo­getic spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion.

Pil­lay spoke on state cap­ture and shared her dis­be­lief and hor­ror at how the Gup­tas own a news chan­nel.

An im­por­tant take­away from the de­bate was how in this over­flow of in­for­ma­tion, more strin­gent reg­u­la­tory sys­tems are vi­tal in or­der to re­gain the me­dia’s in­tegrity and mod­er­ate the threat of fake news.

DIS­CREDIT IN­FOR­MA­TION: Pres­i­dent Trump and first lady Me­la­nia Trump

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