[long post – but interesting topic]
Hi Listers, There is a new target for weaponised information (i.e. fake news / propaganda): The Economy.
It is increasingly apparent that “Fake news” can be (and is being) used to sabotage and/or derail an entire country or region’s economic agenda by (local and/or foreign) parties intent on furthering their own interests at any cost to the targeted country or region, and the media seems to be an unwitting (or unconcerned?) participant.
Some of us may have already noticed a critical flaw in the “free media” business model. It is viewership (not the quality of stories) that drives their revenue. Now one would expect viewership and quality to be strongly correlated but that thought does not factor human nature.
Majority of people gravitate towards entertaining / controversial / shocking / shaming subjects. Very few people care for deep, broad or complex analysis of the real issues especially if the conclusions are not sensational.
Even fewer search for multiple viewpoints before drawing their own conclusions. They would rather trust the author to have done sufficient balanced research and analysis (which is often far from reality e.g. due to time constraints associated with “breaking” or “exclusive” news models).
So *controversy* (not information) is what sustains media houses in democratic countries globally. Consequently this has made them easy targets for targeted disinformation campaigns. As much as the media claims to have a code of conduct or editorial policies, we see all over the world evidence that media (and/or journalism) is not free of overt/covert bias. In Kenya we have the open secret of “envelope” or “eWallet” journalism for example…
Is “Free press” an illusion? How can a media house be free when its shareholders demand endless growth in profits – something that can only be achieved by “giving people what they want” (not what they need)?
Which media house will publish a story that potentially upsets a major advertiser? Can they refuse millions from deep pocketed international lobbyists to spread propaganda (provided there are legal loopholes to evade treason, libel or other forms of accountability)?
Critical thinkers will agree that nowadays the media (worldwide) are informing less and manipulating more…and it almost looks deliberate (no wonder the uptick in conspiracy theories globally!).
The hidden (but harmful) impact of this is increased *mass ignorance* within populations at the very least, with other potentially worse implications (e.g. spread of unfounded fears or hate targeted at certain groups).
Fake news is particularly insidious and destructive when the economy or development agenda is targeted for sabotage. To the average person, it looks like harmless gossip or sensational chatter from “concerned (usually faceless) groups” but if you consider the consequences in monetary terms, e.g. if truly beneficial projects be abandoned, delayed or scaled down for invalid or unjustifiable reasons, then there is a massive cost that the taxpayer will ultimately have to foot. What looks like fierce competition between geopolitical power players in pursuit of *their* interests can end up completely derailing an otherwise promising economic agenda of the targeted country/region.
Should local media be held accountable for the consequences of facilitating economic sabotage that is commensurate with any harmful impact of the fake/distorted/half-truth stories being told?
I value press freedom but I think all freedoms are balanced with some kind of equitable accountability (such that A’s freedoms don’t harm B’s rights). It is not the media that feels the pain of irresponsible reporting, its the MSME business people whose opportunities for growth get limited, or hardworking employees whose taxes (or costs of living) go up as government scrambles to raise funds in a booby trapped economy. Meanwhile the controversy / fake news fuelled media shareholders laugh all the way to the bank.
The bigger picture for all of us, no matter our role in society, is to try contribute (within our abilities) towards peace, progress, democratic ideals, better standards of living and economic prosperity. I think it is irresponsible for one party to exercise its rights just for the sake of it, without regard to impact on other people’s rights (e. g. to have a stable, predictable and growing economy).
What do you think? Is the western model of “press freedom” failing? Share your thoughts.
BrgdsPatrick A. M. Maina(Independent Public Policy Analyst)
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