Journalists And News Consumers Must Work Harder To Get To The Truth, Experts Say
Reporters and news consumers face daunting challenges determining fact from fiction, journalism experts told Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates #DearWorldLive in a program marking World Press Freedom Day.
Journalists and a press safety advocate urged news consumers to be more skeptical and discerning of the news they read and hear amid an onslaught of disinformation and unreliable social media content.
They said the challenges for news consumers are compounded when trying to understand what is happening in war-torn nations like Syria, where independent journalism is scarce, journalists are at risk, and there is an abundance of untrustworthy propaganda.
Kholoud Helmi, an independent Syrian journalist and co-founder of the Enab Baladi newspaper, said that citizen journalists in her home country combat a barrage of government disinformation under circumstances in which “no one is daring to say anything.”
She emphasized that the current battle against disinformation is tiring and consuming, but –despite these challenges – “I continue for those who are oppressed, for those in prison, for those we are fighting for.”
Maria Salazar Ferro, the emergencies director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, defined disinformation as “the active engagement in giving false information with a purpose, often with the purpose of changing the course of events.” Addressing the viral spread of misleading or false information, Ferro called it a looming threat to the free press.
She added: “Without freedom of the press, everything is at stake.” Not only is the freedom of the press “one of our most basic human rights,” but “by attacking journalists, those in power are attacking all of us.”
Marie Mbullu, a Tanzanian American whose TikTok videos have garnered 1.9 million likes, said that citizen journalism provides a valuable alternative perspective, especially for young people. She said that too often traditional news media focuses on the negative. “I found that most of the news that people received about Africa has to do with war, tragedy, or suffering, and Africans don’t even know what is going on in neighboring countries. That’s why I felt the need to talk about current events, historical events, and innovations going on in Africa.”
When #DearWorldLive host Nelufar Hedayat asked the experts how trust can be restored in media reporting, Mbullu urged news consumers to exercise caution: “Do not believe everything you read.” Helmi and Ferro agreed. Ferro added: “I think it’s really important to check the source of what you’re reading and look at multiple sources to contextualize what you’re reading.”
Several students from Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) – a Qatar Foundation partner university – contributed comments during the live program, which was watched by nearly half a million people around the world.
NU-Q student Moamen Ghanim said: “We need to work more on digital journalism to utilize digital tools to reduce the number of reports working in harsh conditions.” And NU-Q student Inaara Gangji said she believes the “role of journalists and the press needs to be redefined.”
The program and all #DearWorldLive episodes can be seen on Doha Debates’ Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch channels, and at DohaDebates.com/DearWorldLive.
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