Almost everyone from former US President Barack Obama to Pope Francis has once mentioned the growing problem of fake news and the confusion and mistrust it creates among people.
And, while many think that fake news is a developed-world phenomenon and doesn’t affect the developing and under-developed countries then it is wrong to think so. From Serbia to Bolivia every country is a victim of fake news. The fake news is either created by utter lack of research in the storytelling or fake news is intentionally forced by a political strong-arming.
In this context, it is a time for news media to tack more closely to professional standards and ethics, to eschew the publishing of unchecked information, and to take a distance from information that may interest some of the public but which is not in the public interest.
This publication is therefore also a timely reminder that all news institutions, and journalists whatever their political leanings, should avoid inadvertently and uncritically spreading disinformation and misinformation.
In much news media today, the elimination of positions providing internal fact-checking has to an extent led to the function now being assumed by the “fifth estate” of bloggers and other external actors who call out mistakes made by journalists – though after they are already disseminated.
This emergent phenomenon can be welcomed by news media as reinforcing society’s interest in verifiable information. Journalists should bring the work of independent fact-checking groups to larger audiences. But they should know that where external actors demonstrate systemic failure in a given news outlet, this puts a question mark over at least that institution’s brand as a professional source of news.
The media should be careful that external post-publication corrections do not become a substitute for internal processes of quality control. Journalists have to do better and “get it right” in the first place, or forfeit the possibility of a society to have believable media.
In sum, a game of catch-up corrections by external watchdogs is not one in which journalism is a winner. Journalists cannot leave it to fact-checking organizations to do the journalistic work of verifying questionable claims that are presented by sources (no matter whether such claims are reported in the media, or whether they bypass journalism and appear directly in social media).
The ability of news practitioners to go beyond “he said, she said” journalism, and to investigate the veracity of claims made by those being covered has to be improved