Media

Expose fake and biased stories rather than hitting share: Martina Chapman

January 10, 2017 06:35 AM
Martina Chapman: Consultant in media literacy

Martina Chapman is an independent consultant in media literacy and digital engagement. In 2013, she set up the Belfast-based Mercury Insights to provide policy and project support to a number of high-profile organisations across Europe, including regulators, public service broadcasters and other bodies. She explains to R Edwin Sudhirthat media literacy is critical for news consumers to make informed decisions.

The credibility of news organisations has come under intense scrutiny, thanks to multiple sources of information. What should they do to maintain a high credibility quotient?

Media plurality is important. When people have access to different perspectives on the same story, they can potentially make more informed choices about what source they want to trust. As a society, we are dependent on trustworthy news organisations to expose fake and biased stories.

Most established news organisations already have strong editorial standards and processes and a commitment to adhere to them — and this takes time. In a media landscape where news is constantly breaking on social media, journalists can get squeezed between producing a story quickly to compete with social media, and producing a story in line with their editorial guidelines.

It’s also getting harder to distinguish between fact and opinion. In the past, reporting of substantiated facts was of paramount importance. These days the need to go viral and compete with content producers outside established editorial systems can put mainstream journalists under a lot of pressure. News consumers need to learn how to spot bogus content and know how to call it out, rather than hit share because the headline resonates with us.

There’s an old saying, ‘A lie will be halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on.’ That’s usually because the lie is far simpler to understand than the truth.



How serious is the problem of media illiteracy? What are the inherent dangers if we don’t tackle it now?

I would agree with Howard Rheingold, who argues in his book Netsmart that people who understand the fundamentals of digital media literacy will be able to exert more control over their own fates than those who lack this knowledge. Without it, he argues that ‘we could end up drowning ourselves in torrents of misinformation, disinformation, advertising, spam, porn and trivia’. If we needed a reminder of the importance of media literacy, then surely 2016 has been it. From Brexit to the US presidential elections, we have seen how fear and blind optimism are used as weapons to outgun facts and figures. Reasoned debate loses out to rhetoric and easily tweetable slogans.

The impartiality required of broadcasters also places a responsibility on audiences to make their own judgement about opposing viewpoints. But how confident are we that people are really able to recognize the right or left leaning of some media outlets, their partiality and self-interest, or how this might colour the coverage?

When we get online and onto social media and search platforms, the world gets more complicated with fake news and algorithms curating our content and potentially skewing our worldviews in ways not conducive to recognising or understanding ‘the other’.

Fake news travels much faster than ever before due to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. Is regulation the key to cracking down on this problem?

There’s an old saying, ‘A lie will be halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on.’ That’s usually because the lie is far simpler to understand than the truth.

The whole concept of fake news is very topical, but it’s not really a new phenomenon. Fake news has been around for a very long time, often in the form of propaganda. Media literacy is a better defence against fake news than regulation. Media literacy empowers people to make informed choices. Every time media technology changes, we start to push at new boundaries and there is a new set of challenges and opportunities for us to get to grips with. Therefore, media literacy is a lifelong learning journey and a media-literate society requires organisations from many sectors to work together in order to empower people with the skills and knowledge to make informed decisions.

Are news consumers more aware now than ever before about the possibility of fake news floating around and exercising caution before taking action?

Recent international events have highlighted just why it is important for people to be able to decode, deconstruct and evaluate media content they encounter. Who knows, maybe media literacy professionals will look back and see this as the golden age of media literacy enlightenment because both news consumers and news producers might start to appreciate just how critical it is for a well-functioning society to be media literate.

What three strategies would you recommend for news consumers to be more media literate?

1)Access a wide variety of news sources so that you get a fuller picture of events (2) Don’t share news without being sure about their credibility as we end up unintentionally endorsing them and (3) Try and understand the motivation for publishing the news stories. Eventually, we need a well-balanced diet of news, and knowing the source is very important to improve media literacy.

How can news organisations raise the bar on media literacy?

There is great potential for news organisations to work in partnership with a range of other organisations. Some media organisations have been doing great work to support the development of media literacy. For example, the BBC has been running BBC News School Report for years (a project to help young people understand how news is created). YLE, the public service broadcaster in Finland, has also invested in helping young people critically engage with news. In France, Les Clés des medias (Keys for understanding media) project was designed to facilitate debate and learning about media issues.

News organisations could signpost sources of support when covering media literacy issues in news, rather than just waving a red flag about an issue and raising awareness of it. For example, both the BBC and the Huffington Post recently published guides on how to spot fake news.

Websites like snopes.com are often the go-to places to check the authenticity of news. Does this indicate a crisis of quality in mainstream media?

It could be an indication that people are starting to exercise their critical thinking skills, which is a good thing. It also underlines the demand that exists for quality, reliable news content and offers the mainstream media a way of demonstrating that they consistently deliver high-quality news. We should encourage that demand. (From Times of India)

 

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