True journalism will survive. This is not arrogance or wishful thinking from a journalist who cares about the profession. It’s what I believe will be the end-result of the current state of uncertainty and the hype of bogus media and disinformation. Though this doesn’t mean to negate the fact that media is changing, technology is developing at an unprecedented pace, or that challenges are enormous.
Digital is overtaking the way publishing and broadcasting works, radically changing the way journalists work and the profession sustains its viability. The internet, as a tool and means of disseminating news and information, is impacting what’s called traditional media in a way not seen before. The evolving role of so-called social media — which I consider asocial — as an outlet for news, information, opinion and analysis is the main challenge to professional media and journalistic work.
In almost every media event of the past year, one comes out from discussions and debates with a perceived conclusion that ‘mainstream media’ is over and other forms of journalism are taking over. There’s no definitive measure of how many are turning to social media for news and information rather than seeking it from mainstream media, as yet almost all media outlets use these social media platforms to propagate their content across all formats (text, pictures, videos, infographics ...).
It may be right to say that the public is finding it easier to get information from social media while it’s becoming more and more sceptical about information other than that ‘shared’ or ‘tweeted’ by trusted sources. Hype about social media becoming the main source of information and news may be coming to an end soon — not only due to saturation, but due to increased use of these platforms as means of disinformation, bogus campaigning and spreading rumours for political ends.
Challenges to true journalism are surmountable, though it may seem to be the opposite for some — especially those who are at odds with professional journalism. When you see the president of a superpower attacking media day and night, using his social media accounts to criticise journalists and launching a campaign of media-hate, you might think that journalism is on the verge of a detrimental retreat.
United States President Donald Trump has taken his attacks on media to unprecedented levels, using his public speeches to defame journalists — in some cases leading to his supporters in the public to heckle reporters or threaten them. Trump may not be the first among politicians, business moguls and public figures to take a stand against media and journalists, but his campaign goes further in smearing and agitating.
In his outbursts against the media, Trump is banking on one of the vices of social media — fabrication and spin. Recently, the Washington Post published a report fact-checking Trump’s statements and tweets citing thousands of wrong information points (fake facts) since he came to power. That’s the sort of true journalism, professional one, that Trump and many others attack everyday. I believe that as the attacks on media and journalism increases, it is a pointer that true journalism is doing its job properly and in so doing, it is rankling those who want to obscure facts.
As political and business groups are using social media to propagate their interests, whether in an ‘honest’ and factual way or through spin and propaganda (fake news and views), the public needs journalists and true media to keep themselves informed in an unbiased way by presenting correct facts and news. It’s the public that has a deep interest in true journalism and this trend will ultimately prevail, whatever be the current situation. Even with social media getting more popular presently, the public will ultimately come to a point when it will realise the need for real journalism. Demand for news and views is not decreasing, it’s just that the market is overcrowded with all kinds of platforms. As a result of which, quality and credibility of news has taken a hit.
Furthermore, true journalism is not about defaming people or entities. Mainstream media is ruled not only by laws of libel, but by its set of professional regulations. Unregulated social media may suit those ‘powerful’ people and entities who want to deprive the public of one of the few remaining means to keep them in check, but public shouldn’t give up on true journalism for the sake of superficial, sensational and non-credible sources of news and views, information and analysis.
For balanced journalism, we need media and journalists to investigate, verify and check information as an antidote to the era of fake news.
Dr Ahmad Mustafa is a noted journalist, based in Abu Dhabi.