‘Fake news’ debate call to regain media integrity
National Arts Festival’s ‘Think!Fest’ panellists discuss misinformation
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