Facing up to the challenge of fake news

“I am not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” Donald Trump told a CNN reporter at a January 11 news conference, a little over a week before he took the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States.

At the time, reports were swirling around Washington about possible Russian interference in the November presidential election that some commentators said had contributed to Trump’s victory over Hilary Clinton, the Democratic challenger.

Just before the encounter with Mr Trump, CNN had carried a story purporting that the US intelligence community had prepared a report that the Russians had damaging information on the then president-elect. The story, subsequently disputed on the grounds of accuracy, is what understandably attracted Mr Trump’s ire.

With this labelling of the influential US global television network, Mr Trump brought discussion of the contemporary phenomenon of “fake news” out of media circles where it had been largely confined, into the mainstream of American and, by extension, global society.

It is clear, however, that Mr Trump’s targetting of CNN was motivated by more than this single story. On the whole, the billionaire businessman, a rookie to politics, had been getting mostly negative coverage, not just from CNN, but most other mainstream media since his entry into the political fray.

Despite their best efforts to get it right every time, the best media house is still likely to get it wrong every now and then. Besides, media do not manufacture stories as the creators of fiction do but rely heavily on various sources of information with whom they have developed some kind of relationship.

Sources unfortunately can come up short sometimes, even though they may have proved to be highly reliable in the past. In the circumstances, CNN, the pioneer of 24-hour television news coverage, should be given the benefit of the doubt. It is not a media organization with a reporting history that would suggest an association with fake news.

Fake news, to give a simple definition, is the deliberate creation and peddling of misinformation, disguised as news, for deceptive purposes. Put another way, mostly old-fashioned political propaganda which has found new life through opportunities provided by modern communications technology, specifically social media.

Since the January news conference, other media houses, including the New York Times, have faced similar accusations from the US president. What is ironic, however, is the availability of evidence showing that Mr Trump’s campaign for the White House did benefit from the influence of fake news in swaying voters.

So the question must be asked: what really is Mr Trump’s objective, now that he is under intense scrutiny by the traditional media in fulfillment of their watchdog role? His attacks on CNN, The New York Times and other traditional media with the aim of hurting their credibility seem more like a case of trying to shoot the messenger to divert public attention from the message.

An old political tactic, this approach seems quite plausible as Mr Trump’s media portrayal since assuming office has been largely negative and mostly of his own doing. Perception of his disappointing performance is reflected in his having the lowest approval rating of any president in recent history, so early in his tenure when such ratings tend to be highest.

Here in Barbados, with the approach of a general election, Barbadians should take more than passing interest in the negative nature of fake news lest they become easy prey for manipulation. Fake news thrive in an election environment and, from current indications, the Internet will be a key battleground where many a battle will be fought in the upcoming campaign.

What makes Barbadians particularly susceptible to fake news is a seemingly insatiable appetite for the juiciest gossip. A few websites trading in such are already well known. While social media have expanded opportunities for the average citizen to engage in greater exercise of the right to freedom of expression, it has not been accompanied by sensitization of the accompanying responsibility.

Traditional media are required to practise responsible journalism or suffer the consequences provided under the law, which can include being sued out of business. Peddlers of fake news, however, escape such legal scrutiny because they generally function under the cover of anonymity, which allows them to do their damage. Barbadians need, therefore, to be on their guard to avoid being swayed by such misinformation.

Mindful of its responsibility, Barbados TODAY affirms its commitment to the highest standards of journalism during the coming election season. Our aim is simple: to provide comprehensive factual coverage of the various issues so that Barbadians are well-informed and can come to their own independent conclusions.    

2 Responses to Facing up to the challenge of fake news

  1. Sunshine Sunny Shine April 4, 2017 at 3:42 am

    Why don’t you call the social media by name? If you are referring to BU, you are very much aware that that social media hotspot has provided credible information on a number of issues going on in Barbados. Indeed the language can be colourful, the descriptions less than respectful, but if our politicians performance in and out the house of assembly provides conduct that is exemplary, then, you can afford to be highly critical of those operating under anonymity. The politicians say and do, expose and speak out of context, engage in matters that are highly speculative and incredulous, ignores revelations that are of an incriminatory nature, yet non are held to account for their actions or activities that comes over as highly suspicious. You know why? It is because they have their protectionist nets in place. And, the media houses, who are powerless to investigate these matters thoroughly, can only go that far or no further for reasons that points Freedom Of Information and the bias laws of Defamation. Notice that I have not said anything about media houses having political connections or arrangements with politicians because that would be inappropriate and inflammatory. We know you all are gaged for one reason or the other. It is just the other reason that we are trying to find out why you have allowed yourself to be subjected to the gag. I often wonder if you were not allowing yourself to be gaged, if you would have dugged deep into the revelation that two politicians are driving cars given to them from a mechanical contractor as gifts, and if you would have dugged deeper to find out if there were any other gifts offered and what is the extent of the business relationship. Or, the connection with the Grotto High Rise matter and what the auditor general had to say were a number of accounting anomalies that deserved to be investigated further (my words). Or, all the auditor general reports generated over the years that shows both administrations have condoned accounting behaviours that have contributed to the several avenues for money to be easily channelled without proper checks and balances and without the necessary accounting declarations for it to be accounted according to financial rules. You think that a stories like those would deserve a little more digging to see the extent of these matters and their far reaching consequences. The protection measures put in place to cover politicians are the reasons why media houses and internet news outlets, like yourself, cannot do any thorough investigative journalism because you are content with a system that limits your powers of journalism. Let me repeat, CONTENTED!! So, you gloss over the facts or ignore some of the obviouses. I mean what is worst, a blogger who spews superlatives and expletives at persons and a system that benefits a few under anonymity, or a media house, that is not anonymous, but is alleged to be in bed with the political system, reports superficially, ignores serious revelations, and expects us to take it seriously? By the way nice article. Are you going to allow my response to be featured?

    Reply
  2. Jamar Haynes April 4, 2017 at 10:04 am

    You editorial is fundamentally flawed and politically spiked. I agree with the above writer in that your inordinately close relationship to various politicos and “big shots” on the island make it impossible for BT to do anything but report and do no additional investigative work.

    This is not journalism.

    You need (I mean the Barbados media) to answer the rudimental questions – how, when, where, why and who and stop glossing over facts. The media is the fourth estate and gatekeeper of the people, not the gatekeeper of the politician. What is ironic is that you write this piece about Trump’s assertions about fake news without checking the facts wherein his accusations have been proven to be correct. The other option is to check the facts, evidence (call it what you will) against other sources of information. Just repeating what one hears on CNN, CNBC, BBC or reads in the LA Times, Washington Times or New York Post will not do. Intelligent readers want balanced news not news contrived to help someone win an election. How is CNN such a great, respected, reliable source having fired Donna Brazile for handing Wolf Blitzer questions ahead of a debate. Why is Fareed Zackaraih, who was sent on leave for plagiarism, still a talking head at CNN? Why is Brian Williams still in his job. These are people who you respect and people who lied to the people. Instead of focusing on “fake news” in the US and half of it is fake regardless of who is in office and is nothing more than propaganda, you may wish to deal with local issues as aforementioned in your earlier post.

    You may wish to ask why there is no justice in the Supreme Courts of Barbados in a timely fashion; why there are allegations of Judges allegedly going to have a bite to eat for hours leaving claimants and defendants waiting until 4pm to then adjourn a case. You may want to ask the CJ, how many e-mails he has from fed-up claimants or defendants regarding the pace of justice.

    You may want to ask the Police why they sit on cases for three years plus when the evidence was all but given to them on a silver platter with the appropriate serving ware. You may wish to ask what the US$50 million IDB loan for water and sanitation upgrades was used on and why Bajans suffered for months on end.

    You may want to explain what a Caa3 credit-rating means for Barbados rather than just report the rating, or do you not know? You might consider why the media houses, such as yourself, seem gagged an unable to report on very serious issues in Barbados. The days of house fire reporting are over. People want to know what will happen with their lives in Barbados under any administration.

    What about all the failed or net yet implemented projects that the DLP was supposed to get off the ground but they languish while the Country goes deeper into the proverbial black hole of Calcutta (No disrespect to India).

    What we get from BT is not news but reporting, it is non-investigative and Barbadians who are interested in the Trump administration and its chaotic last three months have the option of getting their news, real or fake from other sources than those you mentioned or they may continue their subscriptions. His Presidency is not nearly as important as the firing of the Governor of the Central Bank, whether the dismissal of the case of Darwin Dottin is politically motivated (allegedly) or how Barbados will recover from the latest downgrade into Greece-esque status as JUNK. Why are politicians protected and you guarantee us non-biased coverage of an election? I expect this from you but will not pretend that it will happen. So far, all the media houses in Barbados are easily identified by the type of stories that appear on the pages or on a broadcast.

    Why has BT not investigated an allegation that a candidate for one of the dueling parties in the upcoming election is campaigning for his/her party while still employed in his/her senior capacity at that flag-draped institution while it is against the ethics (if not the law) of both countries he or she allegedly serves? Check it out.

    Your article was well intended but what is BT’s agenda? All media houses are owned and controlled (if you studied media at Masters level (at least) by the owners and controllers. They have political views themselves. Barbados is too quick to keep looking north at the USA when their own country burns while fiddlers (including the media) are on the proverbial roof.

    Agreed. Nice article. Will you publish my response?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *