The virtues of due process

It is up to the readers to support journalism and not fleeting social media trends

Published - April 02, 2018 12:15 am IST

Fact or Fake concept, Hand flip wood cube change the word, April fools day

Fact or Fake concept, Hand flip wood cube change the word, April fools day

In his 1637 treatise Discourse on the Method , René Descartes famously wrote: “I think, therefore I am.” If he were to live in today’s world where there is an information overload — mostly trivia and some malicious propaganda — he would have said: “I take a selfie, therefore I am.” Internet Live Stats, a website of the international Real Time Statistics Project, estimated that in 2016, every second approximately 6,000 tweets were put out, more than 40,000 Google queries were searched, and more than two million emails were sent. In this deluge, how do we navigate through the minefields of lies, spins, and partial truths?

The urgency to ask this question arises from the fact that I get all kinds of queries from readers, some of which conflate issues and divert attention from the idea of journalism as a public good. Last week, the Bengaluru Crime Branch arrested Mahesh Vikram Hegde , co-founder and editor of the right-wing propaganda website Postcard News , for spreading ‘fake news’ about Muslim youth attacking a Jain monk. Some wanted me to examine this case to see whether it violates the right of free expression.

News and propaganda

Let me first introduce a few caveats. I have stopped using the term ‘fake news’ as it legitimises outright lies and manufactured hatred. Lies, propaganda, and partial truths cannot be linked with the word ‘news’. There are principles such as first-hand knowledge, verification, bearing witness, and accountability that govern the news flow. Hence, to give dignity to targeted bigotry with the suffix ‘news’ is to undermine common good. I agree with Claire Wardle of First Draft, which is now a part of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. She wrote: “Language and terminology matters, and for that reason the term ‘fake news’ should not be used to discuss this phenomenon. When describing the complexity of information disorder, it is woefully inadequate. Neither the words ‘fake’ nor ‘news’ effectively capture this polluted information ecosystem.” Her argument was that the term ‘fake news’ allows the debate to be framed as a textual problem, while it remains an ethical and social one. In the past few years, there has been an exponential growth in polarised websites and social media activism aimed at ruthless propaganda before elections. To invoke the idea of Article 19 to defend this act of criminality may undermine the idea of democracy itself.

It is in this environment that the legacy media is regaining its place as a credible information provider. Barring some partisan readers, a majority have started valuing the process of stringent gate-keeping that forms the bedrock of journalism. There is a discernible movement away from the constant blur of breaking news on television screens and social media platforms.

Slow news

One of the most interesting innovations is a print magazine called Delayed Gratification . Many elements of this magazine have been a part of The Hindu ’s weekend editions. Editors of Delayed Gratification want to re-establish the importance of slow journalism. “Like the other Slow movements, we take time to do things properly. Instead of desperately trying to beat Twitter to the punch, we return to the values we all want from journalism — context, analysis and expert opinion,” they argue.

They say that they cut through the noise by not following modern news production methods that are filled to the brim with reprinted press releases, knee-jerk punditry, advertorial nonsense, and churnalism. Instead, they prefer slow journalism as an antidote to menace: “Intelligent, curated, non-partisan news coverage designed to inspire and inform.”

Rob Orchard, one of the editors, feels that being one of the last to break news can inform readers in a way that the constant stream of 24x7 news updates cannot. One of the best things about a print edition is the virtue of finite space. Delayed Gratification puts it out succinctly: “We do not have infinite space to fill which means we don’t fall into 24/7 news traps: the speculation, conjecture and hot air. We’ve got just 120 pages every three months, so we make every one of them count.”

It is up to the readers to support journalism and not fleeting social media trends.

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