INVESTMENT in quality journalism is essential to combat the rise of so-called fake news, a conference in Limerick has been told.
The use of click-bait and fake news to drive traffic to online news and social media sites, allied to a lack of media literacy amongst many members of the public, were some of the factors cited as influencing the rise of this phenomenon at the event in King John’s Castle.
Organised by the Irish South-West Branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII), the conference entitled Local News Matters featured a panel of speakers offering different perspectives on the theme of ‘The Truth in the News? The role of quality journalism in an era of fake news’.
The panelists were Emma O’Kelly, RTE’s Education Correspondent, Cian Connaughton, President of the PRII and Fiona McGarry, Producer of Clare FM’s flagship current affairs programme, Morning Focus.
The debate was chaired by Nandi O’Sullivan, Head of Communications, Shannon Group plc.
NUJ Branch chairman, Colm Ward outlined how the Branch organised the event to coincide with the NUJ’s ‘Local News Matters’ week.
“The increasing prevalence of fake news and alternative facts underlines the value of a quality media sector capable of offering impartial, ethical and robust coverage of the events of the day. Good journalism is the most effective counterpoint to those who would seek to undermine truth and honesty in the media in pursuit of digital traffic and political or economic influence”.
He said that it is this reason that investment in journalism is needed now more than ever. “As an industry and as consumers, we need to get back to the basic principle that good journalism doesn’t come for free and if we want to maintain a free, impartial media sector into the future, we need to be prepared to pay for it now,” he said.
Many insightful contributions were made on the topic by the audience, which included journalists, PR professionals, public representatives and members of the public.
A clear message at the conference was the need for journalists to adhere to core principles, such as respecting truth and maintaining fact checking standards by using the two source verification method.
The PR Institute also outlined that, like journalists, its members sign up to clear codes of practice and ethics when carrying out their communications duties.
Other challenges facing the media sector highlighted included the concentration of media ownership in Ireland plus the lack of sufficient resources to adequately check facts in many news rooms.
Greater transparency around promotional endorsements by celebrities and other so-called digital influencers was also called for. This was against a background of news outlets tendencies to sensationalise stories and the undue influence of online and social media trends on the news priorities of traditional media in order to generate advertising revenues were other factors mentioned.
The event was supported by Shannon Heritage and the Shannon Group, and attended by members of The Clare Champion, who championed the need for local news to maintain its strong core principles and high standards, as well as local TDs Timmy Dooley and Michael Harty.