World Press Free­dom Day 2019: the role of com­mu­ni­ty media in times of post-truth

Today we cel­e­brate the World Press Free­dom Day 2019, whose top­ic is “Media for Democ­ra­cy: Jour­nal­ism and Elec­tions in Times of Dis­in­for­ma­tion”. For the occa­sion, AMARC Europe – part­ner of the Grass­roots Radio project – invit­ed Dami­an Loreti (Board AMARC Inter­na­tion­al) to reflect on this year’s UNESCO Press Free­dom Day top­ic. We share such insight­ful reflec­tions and call to action:

In 2016 the Oxford Dic­tio­nary chose the term “post-truth” as the word of the year, in a con­text in which the inces­sant cir­cu­la­tion of infor­ma­tion medi­at­ed by social net­works today has put us in front of the need to dis­cern between exact news , inac­cu­rate, true or false (fake news).

In many cas­es we talk about spe­cial­ly devel­oped infor­ma­tion (or con­tent) aimed at care­ful­ly devel­oped user pro­files, based on the non-con­sen­su­al use of per­son­al data (inter­ests, friends, sched­ules, cul­tur­al con­sump­tion, etc.). These are forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion assist­ed by fil­ters based on algo­rithms or arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence that process huge vol­umes of data and can self-per­fect their per­for­mances (machine learn­ing), ini­tial­ly to pub­li­cize prod­ucts. Dig­i­tal plat­forms, ini­tial­ly unaware of the information/​opinion/​entertainment rela­tion­ship, have begun to wor­ry and put in place mea­sures to mit­i­gate what they will con­sid­er as manip­u­la­tion. For this they decid­ed to appeal in some cas­es to third instances of ver­i­fi­ca­tion. Although it is not the cen­tral motive of this col­lab­o­ra­tion, it would also be nec­es­sary to med­i­tate on who ver­i­fies the ver­i­fiers because the com­plaints of those con­tract­ed by these com­pa­nies are already pub­lic due to pres­sures of a dif­fer­ent nature.

The inci­dence of false or not entire­ly true news, it is sup­posed, had affect­ed the result of car­di­nal polit­i­cal process­es for the world real­i­ty as the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump for the pres­i­den­cy of the USA, the ref­er­en­dum for the depar­ture of Great Britain from the Euro­pean Union (Brex­it) or the plebiscite for the peace agree­ment between the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment and the FARC and the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Brazil. How­ev­er, not every­thing is the same. 

When we speak of post-truth, accord­ing to Oxford, we refer to “cir­cum­stances in which objec­tive facts have less influ­ence on the for­ma­tion of pub­lic opin­ion than appeals to emo­tion and per­son­al belief”. That is, the rein­force­ment of a cer­tain ide­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive through emo­tion­al ele­ments or rather a kind of “to each one what each one wants to hear”. In some cas­es, with inac­cu­ra­cies, cred­i­bil­i­ty, exag­ger­a­tions or, in oth­er cas­es, with smooth and plain fal­lac­i­es. It would be, in some way, the non-rela­tion between a propo­si­tion that is pre­sent­ed as legit­i­mate and the facts to which it refers.

On the oth­er hand, the fake news appear as news, sto­ries, images or any type of fal­si­fied con­tents with a cer­tain inten­tion­al­i­ty. That means putting into cir­cu­la­tion with a delib­er­ate objec­tive of advo­ca­cy in the pub­lic sphere. This is not entire­ly new. In 1898, Amer­i­can press tycoon William Ran­dolph Hearst sent the car­toon­ist Fred­er­ic Rem­ing­ton, who telegraphed his boss from Havana say­ing: “Noth­ing spe­cial. All is calm. There will be no war. I would like to go back”. Hearst’s strict response was: “Pro­vide draw­ings, I will pro­vide the war”. The sub­se­quent putting into cir­cu­la­tion of images and infor­ma­tion that sought to act on feel­ings pushed the war. Thir­ty years lat­er, in a sim­i­lar way, but with inno­cent enter­tain­ment objec­tives, Orson Welles staged anoth­er war. Through the anten­nas of the Colum­bia Broad­cast­ing Sys­tem, a fic­tion­al extrater­res­tri­al inva­sion was broad­cast in “The War of the Worlds” but nar­rat­ed with the con­struc­tion tools of infor­ma­tive verisimil­i­tude of the moment, which moti­vat­ed enor­mous signs of pan­ic in the streets of New York.

The dis­cus­sion around the truth­ful­ness of the infor­ma­tion, the manip­u­la­tion of data and infor­ma­tion and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of rumors with the pur­pose of influ­enc­ing the for­ma­tion of pub­lic opin­ion, over­turn­ing elec­toral results or gen­er­at­ing alter­ations in the mar­kets goes back, as we said, much more beyond the emer­gence of social net­works.

Rather, it presents itself as an inher­ent chal­lenge to the shap­ing of the pub­lic sphere and to the role of the mass media in the con­struc­tion of stereo­types, con­sen­su­al ideas and stigma­ti­za­tion around dis­sent in con­tem­po­rary democ­ra­cies.

This con­text pos­es new chal­lenges for com­mu­ni­ty media. Espe­cial­ly in coun­tries that have become refrac­to­ry to par­tic­i­pa­tion as the soul of democ­ra­cy, to “mem­o­ry, truth and jus­tice” poli­cies relat­ed to human rights vio­la­tions or even to the events of the wars that have tak­en place. But the chal­lenges to be faced are no more seri­ous than fight­ing for the con­sol­i­da­tion of the sec­tor in times (past and present) of per­se­cu­tion and dic­ta­tor­ships and autoc­ra­cies.

The close­ness with our audi­ences puts us in a place. Being close to our audi­ences puts us in a priv­i­leged place to be those who – as always – have to con­tribute to the right to com­mu­ni­ca­tion and, above all, to have accu­rate infor­ma­tion. This con­cept, which has gen­er­at­ed great debates about its impli­ca­tions and con­se­quences, is not a pure­ly legal con­cept that has been debat­ed.

Com­mu­ni­ty radios do not need laws or reg­u­la­tions, and less we do not need Truth Min­istries for ver­i­fy­ing how truth­ful and accu­rate we are. When we are per­se­cut­ed the rea­son is not based on say­ing false­hoods. The rea­son is our con­sis­tent and obsti­nate search for truth. Truth com­mit­ted to the val­ues ​​of peo­ples, human rights, democ­ra­cy and social jus­tice.

The new con­text forces us to be more imag­i­na­tive in terms of alliances and incor­po­ra­tion of tech­nolo­gies. Not to change prin­ci­ples. The cre­ation of com­mu­ni­ty net­works that face the monop­o­lies of infra­struc­ture are an exam­ple among many.

Our rea­son for being – we said in the “14 Prin­ci­ples” – is to pro­mote social devel­op­ment, human rights, cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic diver­si­ty and the plu­ral­i­ty of infor­ma­tion and opin­ions, demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues ​​and the sat­is­fac­tion of social com­mu­ni­ca­tion and peace­ful coex­is­tence. how to guar­an­tee access and par­tic­i­pa­tion of all races, eth­nic­i­ties, gen­ders, sex­u­al and reli­gious ori­en­ta­tions.

The expe­ri­ences teach that the own­ers of the plat­forms do not usu­al­ly believe in this and that they also cen­sor. But the cen­sor­ships fall over the most vul­ner­a­ble. That is why it is time to rat­i­fy our beliefs and prin­ci­ples. By what­ev­er means.

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