03 May 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.