Media needs fact checking as cure for fake news

Friday, December 24th, 2021 08:00 | By
Media personnel at work. Photo/Courtesy

There has been a lot said about fact checking in journalism. Indeed, fact checking is emerging into an industry, and that is not without cause.

The age of social media has visited on humanity a phenomenon, not entirely new, but certainly on an industrial scale. Information of unverified nature has always circulated in society but now even more. 

On October 3, 1938, for example, in what came to be christened the War of the Broadcasters, Orson Welles, a 23-year-old broadcaster pulled a stunt no one thought was possible.

Invaders from the outer space, Welles announced, had landed in a town in New Jersey, USA and killed 7.000 people.

These invaders were on their way to other cities and would soon overrun New York, Welles announced.

The City, Grovers Mill, where Welles’ Martians landed did not exist, and there were no invaders from anywhere, but that was a detail scared residents were not prepared to wait to be clarified.

Fathers bundled their families in cars in fear and drove off not sure of their destinations.  

Fake news is not new, it has been with us for ages. In our time it has found voice in such powerful individuals as Donald Trump and a host of politicians. Fake news, essentially now, is information that the man or woman with the microphone disagrees with. 

And yet, as seems to be the case in Kenya, the same politician would spew fake news of their own, but which now must be treated as facts because they say so.

On the campaign trail in Kenya there is no shortage of claims and counter claims by politicians.

Of course, those politicians expect their claims to be reported verbatim and repeated ad nauseum.

Their hirelings are often on the trail repeating those claims even if they have no idea what the statements mean.

 Try asking a run of the mill UDA card holder what bottoms-up economic model means and there will be no shortage of explanations. Even the eloquent speakers of yesterday get tongue tied as often happens on TV debates.

This is where media ought to play a critical role of fact checking, which would eventually separate legacy media from social media.

This can’t be relegated to the buzz of day two journalism because the damage will have been done by the second day.

When a politician on the campaign trail makes a claim, it is the responsibility of journalists in the newsroom to countercheck almost instantly and place the claim in context calling lies for what they are.

It is not enough for journalists to quote a politician saying that, for example, the government has not delivered anything of substance in the last decade. Are there no facts in public domain from which the media house can draw to call out this claim?

Yes, they should report that the politician has said, but balance it with what the fact checking reveals. 

It can then be left to the audience to conclude whether what the government has delivered amounts to something of substance of whether the claim of the politician is indeed correct.

When a politician says that he was to be re-elected so that he can complete the projects he started, then journalists should help the public know if indeed the politician has started any projects worth talking about. 

May be over the last five years, the only project of note is a CDF funded police post in a remote village.

Yes, the media house should report that and leave it to the audience to decide whether the politician requires another five years to complete the construction of the police post. 

In so doing, journalists will be doing the public a favour by providing facts to a story and letting the audience decide.

They will also be making it difficult for politicians who thrive in false claims for continuing to hog media limelight with their fakes.

Fact checking is important and is a service that the media needs to give to society, during this elections period. —The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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