Fake news is a ‘magic button’ for politicians seeking to erode trust

During the following session from Commercial Radio Australia's Radio Alive 2017 conference, figures from across Australia's news landscape discuss fake news, building trust, and why digital needs to shake its 'never wrong for long' mentality.

During the session, Deborah Clay, national news director at the Australian Radio Network explains how “if there is fake news, then that trust starts to erode. I think we really need to crystallise what fake news is.”

The Age’s news director Michelle Griffen agrees, telling the Radio Alive conference audience that “the words fake news are just thrown around like confetti now. Politicians use it so often that I think I’m going to start keeping a log of how often it’s used, particularly when we have election campaigns, because they think it’s the magic button.

“It’s bandied around around news judgements. If one were to cover an event that has a commercial interest, I don’t think that’s fake news, it’s just you’ve decided that that’s newsworthiness in the commercial product you’re covering. You can have a different discussion about if that’s the role of news, but it’s not fakeness. It’s not the counter narrative of guesswork and conspiracy and lies.

“It isn’t new, it’s always been there, always.”

Jason Morrison, Seven Sydney’s director of news believes “fake news is effing things up, getting it wrong, making mistakes, getting the wrong information and channelling it and screwing it up.”

“There’s another thing at play here, and I think that the fake news movement has come out of media organisations that want to believe something’s true, that actually go ‘jeez, he said that?, wow!’, bang, out with it.”

For Alan Sunderland, editorial director, ABC, fake news has “always been stuff that’s knowingly inaccurate, deliberately circulated to mislead, and trying to pass itself off as news.”

“In the era of us no longer being the gatekeepers for information that we once were, it is much easier for malicious people to create convincing fake news. Much easier than it used to be.

Sunderland also believes that “business models are disappearing, business models are suffering”, while “the single biggest expense we have as an organisation involved in journalism is our people, and as you find fewer and fewer well-staffed newsrooms with the time, the resources and the people to do the shoe leather work we need to do, it’s easier to find things slipping through.”

Morrison disagrees with Sunderland, saying “I think we have a culture emerging inside journalism, that sort of says you can ‘unwrong’ things.”

“It’s easy to say ‘they’ve cut staff, that’s why these things are going through’. They haven’t cut the ability for you to actually go and confirm things. The rush to be first, the rush to be out there, the rush to be the one that gets retweeted the most… is in fact what’s feeding this.”

Responding to the idea that in digital publishing, “you’re never wrong for long”, Chris Paine, editor of HuffPost says: “The simple fact is, yes, there are new tools, there are new platforms, there are new mediums, but journalism is still the same journalism was. You still have to pick up the phone. I get so frustrated when someone doesn’t just pick up the phone and call. That’s the first step – it’s so basic.

“Journalism is still about writing good copy and confirming a story.”

On Griffen’s fake news radar are stories purporting to be able an issue when they’re actually promoting a product along with “thin as” stories based on research funded by a brand.

Morrison, however, believes that the media has “a snobbish line for where the news happens to be.” He differentiates between radio and websites, saying that while a topic might not deserve to be written as a news report, radio provides an opportunity to talk about what people actually like talking about.

“That’s what radio is about, it’s a beautiful exchange of ideas from people with no barometer of what’s acceptable and what’s not.”


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