Disinformation and fake news erode journalistic morality

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Venkat Raman
June 4, 2022

In her article that we carried some time ago, journalist Ximena Smith underscored the need for a comprehensive, nationwide media literacy strategy to combat misinformation.

She said that even a discussion on the subject is absent in New Zealand thus far.

“The concept of media literacy has largely disappeared from New Zealand’s policy agenda, with the last significant government publication on it being written by the Broadcasting Standards Authority in 2007,” she said in the article.

Politics out of pandemic

While mischief-mongers and social media activists are the largest contributors to fake news and misinformation, politicians have joined the bandwagon in recent years. In their desire to win in the general election held on October 17, 2020, they seemed to dig political capital out of every situation- the worst of all the current pandemic.

As the Economist observed, it is particularly abundant and influential on the web, since it is less expensive and easier to reach people, and artificial intelligence methods like Deepfake make it simpler to doctor video and audio.

Manipulation and deception have always been a part of politics.

Regulatory framework needed

“This is not a time when an ambitious politician will want to take a back seat, let alone be secluded in full quarantine and bed rest. Public service, after all, can have no nobler aim than to lead at a time of such menace. And, as the pandemic spreads, the number of capable stand-ins well enough to take over may dwindle. More cynically, who would want to give a deputy the chance to outshine the boss?” asked the Economist.

To prevent targeted attacks and defamation campaigns against the most vulnerable, we must create regulations and policies that protect minority classes from online manipulation. New laws should make it more clearly illegal for social media firms to sell advertisements that target these groups with politically charged misinformation or disinformation. Mainstream social media platforms should provide safe spaces online for these groups and facilitate their day-to-day use by protecting and moderating them.

Fragile democracy

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke about the harmful effects of disinformation on democracy at her address to about 8000 graduates of Harvard University in Boston on May 26, 2022.

Democracy can be fragile, she said.

“This imperfect but precious way that we organise ourselves, that has been created to give equal voice to the weak and the strong, that is designed to help drive consensus – it is fragile.

For years it feels as though we have assumed that the fragility of democracy was determined by duration. That somehow the strength of your democracy was like a marriage – the longer you would have been in it, the more likely it was to stick.

But that takes so much for granted.

It ignores the fact that the foundation of a strong democracy includes trust in institutions, experts and government – and that this can be built up over decades but torn down in mere years.

It ignores that a strong democracy relies on debate and dialogue and that even the oldest regimes can seek to control these forums, and the youngest can seek to liberate them.

It ignores what happens when regardless of how long your democracy has been tried and tested – when facts are turned into fiction, and fiction turned into fact, you stop debating ideas and you start debating conspiracy.

It ignores the reality of what we are now being confronted by every single day.

Where I come from, we have a parliamentary representative democracy. Without giving you a litany of fun facts on New Zealand you are unlikely to need again –here is the brief version.

Representation in Parliament

We have a Mixed Member Proportional system, which essentially means every vote counts, and it is ensured our Parliament better reflects our communities. Almost 50% of our Parliament are women, 20% are Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, and our Deputy Prime Minister is a proud gay man and sits amongst several other rainbow Parliamentarians.

In the past ten years, we have passed laws that include everything from the introduction of gay marriage and the banning of conversion therapy, right through to embedding a 1.5-degree climate change target into law, banning military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles, and the decriminalisation of abortion.

These are significant issues, and they have not been without debate and difference. But they are all examples of where we have navigated times of deep change, without, for the most part, leaving deep rifts.

But we have also seen the opposite. Whether it is democratic elections that erupt into violence, or the Covid crisis exposing mistrust of experts, institutions and governments – western democracies are seeing it and experiencing examples and New Zealand is no different.

Now I will admit to some trepidation entering a discussion on how we strengthen our democracies when this issue is so easily and wrongly distorted into being opposed to free speech. But that fear is overshadowed by a greater fear of what will happen to our democracies if we do not act to firm up their foundations.” Ms Ardern said.

Please read her speech in full and other stories and features in our June 1, 2022, Digital Edition and please share them with your associates, colleagues, family and friends.

-With Greetings from the Indian Newslink team.

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