Media's Public

What mainstream media can do about fake news

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita

Newspapers and broadcast stations can hardly help educate audiences and call out bogus material elsewhere if they themselves are reckless with their stories

Senate Bill #1492, filed by Sen. Joel Villanueva, seeks to punish purveyors of fake news, although one may ask outright how, if it becomes a law, that can be enforced against nameless and unidentifiable violators in social media.

Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) this week issued a strong condemnation of fake news with specific recommendations on how to help stop it. Yet one may ask if the church can do much, given the complexity of the problem and its record on social advocacies. In its June 22 statement, CBCP called social media a “hotbed of lies,” which bishops and priests may find tougher to tackle than politicians who pushed the death penalty bill.

Tech firms, governments

Technology companies, particularly those managing the social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, and governments are in a stronger position to do something effective. That must be why Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook last Feb. 11 appealed to the two sectors in combating fake news.

Government restrictions, such as the proposed Senate bill, could work only if the tech companies regulate the use of accounts so that the user can be quickly and reliably identified when a lawsuit is filed. Penal laws and technical capability must combine to ferret out those who use fake news out of sheer meanness or for profit.

Educating public

Penal laws, if supported by social media technology, can help. So will education on the danger of fake news, which Apple’s Cook said is “killing people’s minds,” and must be “ingrained in schools and public consciousness.”

Bishops and priests can battle fake news through their pulpits every time a hoax of community interest is exposed.

Which takes us to what the regular press or mainstream media (MSM) can do.

Uncovering fakery is where MSM can be efficient.

With its resource and skill to get at the truth, it can tell its audience that a story is bogus and shouldn’t be believed.

But it may need more than the usual correction box. There must be more hype or noise and more prominent display. And it should be repeated as often as the lie is written or aired.

Sensitive ground

Journalists will tread on sensitive ground here. An error committed by another news outlet or journalist may spark resentment. A publicized quarrel this week between a broadcaster, who called out an erroneous information, and another broadcaster who committed the error shows the pitfall.

The news wasn’t fake but it was misinterpreted or, at worst, distorted in an attack on a senator who talked about the Maute uprising in Marawi. Nowadays though, a media error may be confused or deliberately branded as fake news, which must dismay journalists trained in the value of accuracy.

The quarrel erupted in the same news organization. How much more if they were affiliated rival news outlets? Maybe limiting the call-out to the error with no criticism would help but still it would be tricky and could ignite animosity.

MSM can do better

Mainstream media will be more trusted if it does a better job in its own reportage and opinion making. It must watch out not just for totally bogus news but also those that omit facts, are partly wrong factually, distort or misplace focus, or where truth is “contentious.”.

And in calling out errors, intentional or otherwise, when they arise, each news outlet may need to learn to be ready to acknowledge and correct its own mistakes.

It cannot help educate the public or expose fake news if a news outlet itself is reckless with the facts.

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