"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Opinions, Advertising, Propaganda, Entertainment and News

The problem with "fake news" is that we do not know exactly what constitutes "fake news". In fact, we no longer know what news is. Ed Murrow warned us decades ago, "One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news." The recent hearing by the Philippines Senate on "fake news" unfortunately fails to see that what we often hear, see or read are really opinions. When the Washington Post published, "Another dictator lashes out at press freedom", that was a mere opinion and not news. Perhaps, it was easy to miss this distinction because after all, the word "opinion" is very small compared to the title.

Above copied from the Washington Post

The fact that opinions have been taking a lot more time and space in news broadcasts is nothing new. Back in 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that in cable news in the United States, opinions have already reached majority of "news programs":

Above copied from Pew Research

In the above analysis, the quality and importance of the facts being reported have not even been considered. Business and entertainment purposes are no doubt huge factors in determining what items take spots in the reporting. The shift to opinion and entertainment has serious ramifications. The Pew Research Paper noted, "Nearly one‐third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to."

While the Philippines Senate focuses on blogs and social media, the important issues plaguing the dissemination of information are completely missed. First, the focus on social media is grossly misplaced because the Philippines actually falls well below the global median when it comes to using online sources for news:

Above copied from Pew Research 

And if one looks at the demographics closely, those who get news online in the Philippines are wealthier and more educated.

Facebook and other social media are in reality, places where opinions are shared, and not news. With algorithms used in these social media sites, the opinions one often sees have also been shaped by one's interests and bias.

Legislation cannot address the problem of misinformation without understanding the problem first. The reason is simple, legislators do not appear to know where to begin. Sound information is key to good education and in the case of news, only journalists and networks can make a difference. We should reduce the broadcast of opinions and focus more on facts. That way, we may learn once again the difference between opinions and facts. It is not entertaining, it is not "infotaining". Reporting should neither be a business nor a show.


No comments:

Post a Comment