We’re only days into the federal election campaign and already the first instances of “fake news” have surfaced online.
The British press is regarded by the rest of the world as notoriously raucous. If you need an example of how raucous, the way British newspapers have reported Brexit is only one recent, if much-discussed, example. Headlines such as “Who will speak for England?”, “Enemies of the people” or “Draw a red line on immigration or else” stirred up controversy and put the media’s role in political and democratic debate into sharp focus.
Although the term itself is not new, fake news presents a growing threat for societies across the world. Only a small amount of fake news is needed to disrupt a conversation, and at extremes it can have an impact on democratic processes, including elections.
These days, anybody with an internet connection can be a publisher. That doesn’t make everybody a journalist. This distinction has become more important than ever in light of two recent events.
Thirty-nine journalists have been detained in Venezuela this year, far more than in any other Latin American country, according to the Caracas-based Institute for Press and Society. In this repressive environment, journalists are finding ways to avoid censorship and still cover the country’s crisis.
The American press seems fixated on Fox News and its owners, the Murdoch family.
As a media scholar trying to understand today’s rapidly changing media landscape, I view the Mueller investigation coverage as a direct symptom of a political-infotainment-media complex that has blurred the lines between tabloid soap operas and respectable journalism.
In the RSF Index 2018 report, the NGO Reporters without Borders highlighted how media were facing a constant “anti-media rhetoric” from politicians that has spread out throughout the world. With such attacks, far-right political strategists such as Steve Bannon seek to discredit legitimate media and lift up social media – where “news” can more easily escape from editorial gate-keeping and accountability – to become the main source of information to the public.
With the world wrestling with the disruptive impact of digital communication on democracy, and the news media struggling for its very survival as it faces unprecedented challenges and public attack, we desperately need new institutions and mechanisms to put the public foremost in considering the functions of media.
“Kick this mob out” shouted the front page of The Daily Telegraph reporting the calling of the 2013 election in which Tony Abbott was to triumph. Restraint and modesty have never been the hallmarks of tabloid newspapers. Sometimes they celebrate what they claim is their impact – most famously when the London Sun proclaimed “It’s The Sun wot won it” after the 1992 Conservative victory. But it is a long time since any tabloid newspaper could plausibly claim such a role because their reach has shrunk so markedly. In 1972, the biggest-selling newspaper in Australia was The Sun News Pictorial in Melbourne, with a daily circulation of 648,000. Its stablemate, the Melbourne Herald, was the biggest-selling afternoon newspaper with 498,000.