A panel of journalists sat with media professionals, Embassy representatives, and citizens to discuss how the media and information market has been influenced by fake news and what impact it has had.

The event, called the World Press Freedom Day Event, was hosted by Media Matters in collaboration with different media companies, including the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), Media Monitoring Africa, and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism. It began by asking the question: Are the media helping us escape our echo chambers?

 

This question was asked in combination with the theme of the discussion, which was focused on the prevalence of fake news in recent years. It highlighted how journalists not only must be wary about their sources and their multimedia sharing content, but also consumers of media and their role in spreading fake news.

Media Monitoring Africa gives some statistics on the source of fake news in South Africa, of which the media company made mention they wanted to call “dodgy news” instead.

Those statistics revealed a spike in fake news when Cyril Ramaphosa became president. It shows that most fake news creators are male, and that fake news headlines can often include some bit of truth to seem more believable.

The panelists used this early discussion to platform their own talking points. A radio host at Power FM Iman Rapetti moderated the discussion, and introduced other panelists Sheldon Morais from Primemedia, Dinesh Balliah from Wits University, and Mduduzi Manana who all put their two cents in on the issues at hand.

“There’s a social currency with being the first to tweet out something,” said Sheldon Morais on the responsibility of a journalists to report things accurately but also speedily.

He harped on the narrative of fake news and journalism, underscoring how when a journalist is too concerned with being first on a story or a social media blast, they sacrifice verifying their sources or their retweets and end up paying the price of being wrong and disseminating false information.

Dinesh Balliah went more in depth on the concept of the echo chamber, stating “The chamber is not the problem, unfortunately it’s the echo.” She made mention how journalists, and also the consumers of media as a whole, have ushered social media into an atmosphere where we follow and are fed information we agree with, which has led to several echo chambers that give us only the things we want to hear.

Different perspectives arose during the discussion. However, Balliah saw a clear problem with echo chambers, when Iman Rapetti asked.

The event ended on a story from a question taken from one of the listeners in the audience. He made reference to Egypt’s checkpoints for Israeli/Palestinian refugees and connected that to checkpoints for journalists and their editors. He brought it all home by asking at what point do journalists heed to their “checkpoints” on stories that expose the worst tragedies, and upend an agenda that their higher ups may have? Rapetti thanked him for his question and facilitated discussion about it, but no one had a clear answer.

Media Matters stated they were proud of the event taking place and were happy with the range of experts on their panel.