The media should be the protection against the fake news

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on February 7th, 2019 under Articles | No Comments »

I spoke to FoNet  media agency from Serbia about  the fake news – its distribution around the world and in Serbia, as well as how to combat it. Within the project “Press extra“. Within the project “Press extra”. I answered FoNet’s seven questions about fake news from the perspective of a Strategic Communications Consultant. Below is the edited text of the conversation:
1.     What is the purpose of the fake news?
The spread of the fake news has always existed. The purpose has always been to somehow manipulate the individuals and groups of people, to scare off the opponents, spread panic among the population, and for general propaganda purposes. These were always in some form used by the individuals, tribal communities, states, services, different ideologies, and so on.
With the development of the Internet this phenomenon grows to unexpected and hard to control proportions.
In the past, the Great Powers, by fabricating an incorrect data, or by using the fake news, have been trying to achieve their strategic goals in the areas of their own interest, and all this still exists today. This is still  part of the strategy of the powerful, and primarily their various interest groups.
In this context, it must be noted that democracy is the greatest achievement of human civilisation, therefore it has to be defended under any circumstances, now based on the freedom of the media and building of the powerful institutions.
As always, the purpose of fake news is to deceive the public, to direct it in a certain way, and in a democracy “by illicit means” to discredit a political opponent, a competitor, or a certain individual.
The use of the acceptable means in this context is handling of the true, but for someone potentially unfavorable information. I would like to point to a situation where there are facts and evidence sufficient to disqualify an opponent, and this is surely a legitimate way of communication in accordance with the ethical principles.
On this subject, the emphasis is on “illicit means,” because in such case the truth is suffering. The important question never to be overlooked is how does an individual get to what is true without breaking the ethical and moral boundaries.
2. Who creates the fake news?
Here the key question is how to prevent those who create the fake news, and how to prevent their major impact on public.
I believe that the answer is in free professional media, in the development of the strong institutions where every citizen, organization, company or institution can exercise their rights to protect themselves from the spread of lies. As a company, we always tell our clients that the denial is very important, contrary to the wide spread belief that it has little influence. The truth is the best policy, so one who has been attacked by fake news is obliged to defend himself. Simply, it is beyond any doubt a civilized way that someone who is attacked by fake news has the undeniable right to fight back.
Fake news creators are actually the interest groups who are trying to deceive the public and to injure the individuals, political organizations, non-government organizations, companies, institutions, states, etc. Often, there are whole teams from the communication field, related to the individual interests, or the state, who abuse their role and discard the ethics of our profession, so instead of respecting their main duty to truthfully iform the public, they are working against the public interest, the state and the citizens.
That is why free media is essential weapon to act in favor of the public interest regardless of the ownership, outside of the influence of the state, political parties, main advertisers, individuals, and, of course, coupled with the strong institutions, including the judiciary are then capable to defend anyones legal and civil rights.
3. How much fake news affect the public?
Like any propaganda, the impact is enormous and always harmful. Here, I must emphasize that, regardless of dissemination of lies, the truth always wins if one is strongly and consciously fighting for it. Sometimes the impression is that in the atmosphere of the spread of fake news anything is permitted, but the impact of such news almost always returns as a boomerang to those for whom the creators of false news are working.
4. How much is the public illiterate in terms of media?
The general public does not have to be media literate, and we can not realistically expect it. The society tends to consume whatever is being consistently marketed. We cannot expect from every citizen to recognize the sources, or check the news. As always, it is the responsibility of the elite to provide the timely, objective, and impartial information to the public.
5. What is currently the degree of fake news spread in Serbia and the world?
News is always around us. Television, newspapers, social networks generate news all the time. Social networks are the places in the virtual world for expressing the serious attitudes, but also to convey the feelings, beautiful or of frustration, dissatisfaction…
The difference between us in Serbia on the one hand, and in America and the European Union countries on the other, is that in the US and in the EU the mainstream media is mostly an obstacle to the fake news, while in our Serbian media even with the more reputable examples, we can find unverified information such as the false data, and many of them often intentionally generate fake news too.
The responsibility of the mainstream media in the selection and transmission of information is enormous. I believe that the key is in the habit of ethical behavior, the daily application of the Law and media standards that already exist in Serbia, but are either often not applied or are applied very sporadically.
I believe that all those who are affected by the fake news should always, invariably and immediately apply all legally allowed and civilized means in order to exercise their right of self defence.
6. How much are journalists responsible for planting the fake news?
Both the editors and journalists, regardless of the ownership in the media, are in any society still the “seventh force”, and are therefore crucial for the selection, placement of fact-based information, obligated to comply with journalistic standards, codes, all in public interest, and must apply in every situation the Law on Information of Serbia that is fairly competent and in line with the global trend. A democratic society needs free media that can not exist without the upright and brave journalists and editors who will not accept the requests to place the fake news just because it comes from some strongman, and that attitude in itself shall strengthen institutions that are tasked to enable everyone to exercise their rights.
7. How to fight the fake news?
With truth, based on facts and evidence. With freedom of the media and the building of the strong institutions. By obliging all professionals to comply with the standards, codes and laws. Last but not least, by education in the field of ethics.
In these times of technological and societal transformation the Ethics has become the key to fighting the fake news and non-democratic political movements and is now again irreplaceable for personal and professional orientation. Since last year, the Harvard University has introduced a study of ethics in computer programming so that the students are equipped to think in situations where a computer program can, but should not be made. Changes to the economy, society and politics, accelerated by the fourth industrial revolution, seek the education system that forms professionals and citizens aware of the importance and purpose of ethically informed decisions.
The alternative is an accelerated social devastation and fall into totalitarian fascist models.

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