Journalism in Times of Disinformation
Today, May 3, is being celebrated around the world as “World Press Freedom Day”.
This year’s theme: “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”, is one which should have particular resonance in all democracies, including here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The concept note for the celebration states: “Today, the contribution of free, pluralistic, independent and safe journalism to democracy is under unprecedented stress. Also, election outcomes and their aftermath are critically affected by political discourse and communications, including the role of the media in relation to the polling process. Many societies have falling trust in established political parties and in news outlets themselves. This is often accompanied by polarizing political discourse that threatens peaceful elections as well as press freedom.”
We here in St Vincent and the Grenadines can certainly identify with the negative effect on society of the ongoing polarising political discourse; and only have to reflect on what happened in the aftermath of the 2015 general elections to see how our elections process can be affected by misinformation and disinformation.
Modern technological advances have given rise to new media which allow for global dissemination of information within seconds. The information comes to us on our mobile devices, wherever we are, and while there are many positives to this, some of what passes as news today is totally unfiltered or restrained by any commitment to truth.
Hence the very convenience afforded by new media also makes us vulnerable to the genuine threat of misinformation, disguised as truth, being allowed to invade our private spaces. Once upon a time, mass literacy was an uncontested public good. Now, that very same good stands the risk of being corrupted and exploited through unchecked and often uncheckable penetration of malicious information onto an unsuspecting readership.
Good journalism stands at the vanguard of our defence against these risks. It is journalists who do the heavy lifting relating to sorting the reliable from the unreliable, fact checking, verification of sources and developing readable, engaging stories from complex, weighty tomes of information.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993 to “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.”
Today, more than ever, journalists need the support of the public. We cannot fulfil out mandate without the support of the public. While standing in defence of democracy and the public good, journalists still face attacks on their independence and dwindling budgets with which to work.
Think about a world without a free, independent and reliable press. Continue to support trustworthy journalism. We cannot do this alone.