09 October 2018
Society of Editors
TONY Hall, Director General of the BBC, has issued a clarion call for journalists to urgently raise their game in the fight against the rise of ‘fake news’.
Speaking at the Society of Editors’ inaugural Satchwell Lecture on Monday (October 8), Lord Hall warned it is an all-pervading threat that can undermine not only journalism, but society worldwide.
“It’s the weapon of choice for repressive regimes everywhere,” he said. “The fake news tag has given street cred to mass disbelief… We cannot allow the fake to drive out the fair.”
A key moment – and one that brought fake news into the mainstream, was its deployment in the 2016 US Presidential campaign.
“To many journalists watching the early stages of the Presidential race it might have seemed like an act of desperation to dismiss palpably accurate stories from some of America’s most reliable media as being complete fabrications. But constant repetition of the slogan over – and over – and over again – worked.” Objective facts are now routinely and increasingly effectively countered by simply asserting they are all made up.
According to Lord Hall, the toxic challenge of fake news can best be met by a renewed and determined focus on the traditional building blocks of journalism – accuracy, credibility and authority.
“We must hold our collective nerve and keep doing what’s right,” he said. “We must all – national and local, broadcasters and newspapers – re-commit ourselves to discovering and telling the truth as far as we can.
“We need to check and double-check our sources. Every publisher and every journalist has made mistakes but, in an age when any mistake is portrayed as evidence of an intention to mislead, we must re-double our efforts to get it right first time – and be open and generous about it if we get things wrong. We need to do everything we can to combat any suggestion that we peddle fake news.”
Lord Hall also warned against casual coining of the phrase, describing it as ‘too dangerous to bandy about unthinkingly’. Repeated use gave it currency to epidemic proportions and fixed it firmly in the minds of the public.
“An honest mistake – honestly admitted to – and corrected – IS not the same as fake news.
If as an industry we are serious about the virtues of our trade and the vices of fakers – wherever they are – we should refrain from using that phrase about any serious journalistic endeavour.”
The Inaugural Satchwell Lecture took place at Stationers’ Hall in London and money raised is to go towards rehabilitation costs for Society of Editors former Executive Director Bob Satchwell. Bob, who led the Society for nearly 20 years, stood down in 2017 due to a life-changing illness. Anyone wishing to get in touch with the Satchwell family with a view to making a donation towards the cost of his care should, in the first instance, email firstname.lastname@example.org.