How to fight 'Fake News': The power of the media and censorship

by Greta Ruffino
2 May 2017

In March, the Magazine Production class was visited by Rachael Jolley, the BSME Specialist Editor of the Year, for her magazine Index on Censorship. This publication, for over 43 years, has supported free expression by giving space to stories which were banned in other countries and by providing an international record of censorship. I found her presentation to be particularly important given current events and direction of the world, where governments seem to be concentrating more power in their hands. Rachael offered some key thoughts on censorship, freedom of expression and good journalism.

Why freedom of expression is important.

Freedom of expression is defined as the right to express an opinion without censorship, restraint or legal persecution. If journalism is about uncovering truths which are hidden, challenging authorities and spreading information to the public domain, freedom of expression means that journalists have the right to write and publish a story that some people would rather was hidden. By reading and listening to journalists’ work, citizens should be able to become more knowledgeable and informed, helping them in their roles as decision-makers.

The high price of freedom of expression.

Rachael Jolley (left) with Roehampton students

Only a minority of countries even approach full freedom of expression. In 2016 nine journalists were killed and a total of 1,387 threats and violations to press freedom were registered according to a report covering 42 countries including Europe. Among the places with the highest risk of assault we find Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. Journalists have also been banned from attending public meetings and court cases. What has been termed ‘informational destabilisation’ is used by some authorities to try to hide inconvenient truths and control the media, often resulting in ‘fake news’. This is opposite to the process of democracy, and it is becoming more prevalent.

Don’t trust anything that comes your way.

“Propaganda as a tool of government is on the rise. Be prepared to be inundated by information claiming to be a portrayal of something, and be also prepared to find out that it is not what is seems to be. It is easy to put out words, ideas and myths that you would like people to use and believe.”

In other words, don’t trust anything that comes your way, do your own research and always double check facts. The aim of belittling journalists and undermining their reputation -  and we can refer, for example, to Trump who has defined journalists as ‘the enemies’ of the American people -  is to damage public trust in that profession and to potentially stop people from listening to what credible sources have to say.

Good journalism is worth paying for.

There is an explosion in the number of stories and articles we can find on the internet, some of which are from very talented writers, yet actual journalism is something different. It is about finding the right sources, checking facts and reporting in an accurate, balanced and fair manner, and all of this requires a budget. A very low percentage of consumers are paying for online or print journalism. Giving our contribution to good journalism means doing our part to uphold our right of being well-informed citizens.

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