Fourth Estate must be vigilant in fighting fake news

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cape Town – Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo says all sectors of society, especially the fourth estate, need to be vigilant to effectively deal with the emergence of fake news.

The Minister said this when she participated in a media roundtable on fake news, under the hashtag #fightfakenews, in Cape Town, on Wednesday.

The roundtable, hosted by the SA National Editors Forum (SANEF), was held to amplify a conversation around the fake news phenomenon and to raise awareness on the impact of fake news to the integrity of the news industry and how it threatened democracy.

“Combatting fake news is tough, considering that it is about much more than just the telling of lies.

“Because fake news is able to meta-stasize in the context of the erosion of democratic institutions, we have a huge task ahead.

“…as political actors, we need to re-assert the fundamental democratic principle that places the public at the forefront of our politics.

“For the fourth estate, we need to be vigilant in verifying our stories. In fact checking stories before publication, in fighting for the integrity of our newsrooms, both private and publicly owned, to be the best version of ourselves.

“The central skills of critical reading and critical thinking begin with us… Thus we have a bigger role,” the Minister said.

The Minister said a number of factors have left news outlets vulnerable to fake news including:

  • The gutting of investigative desks,
  • The juniorisation of newsrooms,
  • The inflation of the revenue imperative has meant the over-reliance on fewer news sources and the increase in op-ed over news. This has been spoken of ad-nauseam over the past few decades.

“Coupled with that is the emergence of digital platforms like Facebook and twitter which generate significant avenues for the swift and unchecked dissemination of information.”

She said media institutions have a duty to hold themselves to the highest standards of journalism.

The Minister said government has a duty to protect all citizens from deliberate falsehoods which are a danger to the country’s democracy by ensuring, amongst others, that State entities such as the Film and Publication Board also play a role in regulating content distributed on the internet.

“Various options can be looked into including the effectiveness of self – regulation by media organizations, state led regulation options as well as co-regulation.

“This is a discussion for another day and I will not be able to answer it here in this Inaugural Roundtable,” she said.

Other panelists at the roundtable included Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird, SANEF chairperson Mahlatse Gallens and Press Council director Joe Thloloe.

Gallens expressed a concern that while fake news sources remained a challenge in as far as peddling misinformation to members of the public, it was worrying that they are even outdoing legitimate news outlets.

She said during the recent US elections, for example, fake news sites outdid top stories from 19 top media institutions in terms of social media impressions.

Gallens said social media platforms like Facebook, for example, has started playing an active role in flagging fake news sources on their own platform.

She said media organisations should also be vigorous in its own reporting and that they should strive for accuracy at all times.

SANFEF, will in the period ahead, tackle fake news through various strategies, including raising awareness with members of the public; encouraging media outlets to improve their fact-checking systems and engaging social media companies to try and flag or root-out fake news sources.

Bird said legitimate news organisations were under siege. He said to help members of the public distinguish between fake news and legitimate news, media houses needed to communicate better by investing in their own brands to raise awareness.

 Thloloe, a veteran in the media industry with experience spanning about five decades, said by calling it “fake news”, the media industry has already assumed the role of being a victim, “because fake news is not news”.

He said from tomorrow, a new task team has been set up by the Press Council to review the Press Code in order to be able to tackle new challenges like fake news, while ensuring the media lives up to the highest journalist ethics and standards. –