Sunday, 19 August 2018

Lies, propaganda and hate - the vital connections


Among the more important imperatives of modern day journalism is exposing the people and agendas devoted to undermining trust in what now operates under the moniker of the “mainstream media.”

The difficulty with this though is that systems to unearth untruth and malpractice in the media are, at the same time, absolutely necessary in modern society to ensure that vested political and commercial interests do not prevail at the expense of the public interest.

This is why people are so attracted to the so-called “fake news” phenomenon as worthy of consistent vigilance and as a default when confronted with news and information that does not ring right with the status quo or does not conform with their belief systems.

It is also, at the same time, understandable that people in all their social and political spaces and environments should be concerned that lies and propaganda do not gratuitously enter the sphere of mainstream public communication. Though all of this is not new, what is different are the newer, infinitely more ubiquitous platforms, the growing sophistication of propaganda campaigns, and a catchy oxymoronic tag.

I have used this space before to help people identify the symptoms of this contrived malady and how we can easily identify its purveyors. In many instances the undermining of trust becomes a concerted focus of the most untrustworthy. The signs are relatively easy to pick up and essentially comprise a lack of accountability and transparency alongside clearly identifiable partisan agendas. Think of the last time you saw someone pronounce “fake news” on something and who is offering the assertion.

There is another, equally evident, feature of this: the propagation of expression designed to both defame and to promote hate. In social environments elsewhere, science and measurement are being applied to determine the connection between political and sectional survival and the employment of hate speech. No such compulsion here.

I spent two days in Jamaica last week examining this discrete component of the disinformation agenda. For it will help advance the cause of those concerned about the use of lies and propaganda to understand how promoting hate against individuals and groups feeds into the process of gaining sectional advantage.

It was generally agreed that the entire media industry, in all its facets, focus on actions to ensure that the promotion of hate – expressed as racism, sexism, xenophobia and discrimination against identifiable, vulnerable groups – does not gain traction within the body of mainstream media content, as indeed it sometimes does. It is a sad admission to make as a journalist, I must tell you. But it is the exception rather than the rule.

It is important, we who attended the Public Media Alliance workshop in Kingston last week concluded, that journalists and others operating in the sphere of public communication know how to identify what constitutes hateful content.

This becomes easier if there is, at first, a commitment to treat all groups and individuals with dignity and respect. Now, examine those recent social media posts about the demands of the LGBTQI community to be embraced by the universality of the human rights from which we claim to benefit. Think about the ignorant stereotyping of immigrants and why the disabled are yet to achieve social and economic equity.

There was also acknowledgement of the special status of children. I was quick to add this comes with astute disregard for how children look or behave. In the midst of the violence and mayhem, it has become far too easy to forget that our children require a special level of protection and are, in fact, protected by global convention and national law.

There has also been a tendency to assert cultural specificity on the question of human rights. Yes, we sometimes hear, "there are human rights, BUT what about our small size? What about cultural antecedents?" These are, of course, all entirely false and mistaken assertions. It is amazing that I once had to fight this point with a senior state official in the communication sector.

So, along with “false news” declarations and the hate, comes a declared disregard for human rights. These are all symptoms of a disease that has increasingly become endemic in the body politic. We so frequently point to more developed jurisdictions so afflicted but appear blissfully oblivious to its manifestations among us all.

First published in the T&T Guardian - August 15, 2018


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