We get the media we deserve

Opinion  |  Eric Loo
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | While profit making basically motivates the news business, the media ecosystem shows that the educated public is more drawn to journalism that is transparent and accountable - one that speaks truth to power.

I’m thinking of The New York Times and Washington Post's critical reportage of the Trump presidency, and the online news portal coverage of the Malaysian general election and 1MDB scandal.

To show its transparency and accountability in the news-making process, The New York Times, for instance, included this blurb in its coverage of Trump’s immigration policy: “The Times conducted over three dozen interviews with current and former administration officials, lawmakers and others close to the process.”

Malaysian media can likewise show its transparency to regain the public trust when particular stories call for it. For instance, The Star’s report on the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa’s comment on khalwat, which the paper was coerced to apologise for misrepresenting the minister.

The audience that matter most in journalism – the readers – need to know how and why misattribution does sometimes happen and why what the source said could be misrepresented in the reporting process.

Journalists are as vulnerable as their readers are in jumping to conclusion or confirmation bias, as apparent in The Star’s report, except that journalists are better trained to filter out their biases, and differentiate between verifiable facts from unqualified opinions, legitimate claims from bizarre conspiracies.

An honest media that admits its errors and resolves it with an immediate correction will only serve to educate and instil in readers greater trust and confidence in its standards of reporting.

This necessitates employing an internal readers’ advocate and "fact-check reporters" to monitor the daily news and point readers to cases of misreporting and disinformation.

While multiple fact-checking is central to all types of reporting, news outlets are now employing specialist fact-checkers to monitor the news, photos and videos circulating online.

A former student of mine emailed me recently of his new job as a "fact-check reporter" at the Agence France Presse South Asia bureau in New Delhi.

Fact-check reporters are essentially digital detectives.

They unpack for readers the disinformation and spread of ‘fake news’ at its source - from discussion forums and tweets to chat apps and other evolving social media...

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