Standing for truth

Standing For Truth File photo

Thu, 23 May 2019 Source: Mohammed Nurudeen Issahaq

This year’s global conference on World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), which took place in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) about a fortnight ago on the theme, “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation” cannot go without mention. It focused on the role of the media in elections and democracy. Media experts and practitioners at the event raised the alarm about the growing incidence of fake news and disinformation which, they cautioned, is becoming a threat to democracy.

It is a long held notion that information is power, but the information ecosystem we have now is witnessing a rapid deterioration. The plethora of social media platforms which have become part of the ecosystem are broken and unreliable, giving rise to the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ (the same way as it has given rise to the controversy over regulation of such platforms even in regimes that lay claim to democracy and free expression). An otherwise noble profession, Journalism is constantly being called to question as it is now at the mercy of persons who, even if they have a clue, do not give a hoot about the ethics of the profession.

Free for all! Unfortunately, by their ‘anything goes’ attitude, those practitioners do not only open up themselves to attacks but also make it possible for some disgruntled sections of the society to give the profession a bad name and hang it. So the increase in the frequency at which journalists come under attack today is no surprise at all; democracy itself, from which the notion of press freedom derives its significance, is under attack.

It is significant to note that although not an entirely new subject, the discourse on social media and their repercussions on press freedom and democracy has grown stronger since the 2016 Presidential election in the United States. Christiane Amapour, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent and undoubtedly one of the living memories of courageous journalism today, remarked in a report in the aftermath of the poll: “The winning candidate did a savvy end run around us and used it to go straight to the people with whatever version of the truth he chose. That end run was combined with the most incredible development ever – the tsunami of fake news sites, a.k.a. lies”.

Amazing! Is it that somehow people cannot recognize and simply disregard what is being churned out as gospel truth, or has our modern day society become so gullible as to simply pass fake reports around without fact-checking. Or worst still, as dramatically articulated by Shakespeare in Macbeth, “have we eaten of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?”

“Press freedom has never been as threatened as it is now, in the ‘new post-truth era of fake news’, strongmen and propaganda”, Reporters Without Borders sounded in its annual World Press Freedom Index last year, which also warned of a "tipping point" for journalism.

Columnist: Mohammed Nurudeen Issahaq