Newspapers are readers’ defence against fake news, says Shadow Culture Secretary

Posted on: October 7, 2020 by Claire Meadows

Newspapers are its readers’ defence against the proliferation of fake news and misinformation online, the Shadow Culture Secretary has said.

Writing in an op-ed released by the News Media Association in acknowledgement of Journalism Matters week, Jo Stevens MP pointed to the recent death of former Sunday Times Editor Harry Evans and said that his passing had reminded the public of the change that journalism could make.

She said: “Sir Harold Evans was what every young journalist aspires to be: someone who took on the establishment and won. A man who through his work on Thalidomide, Bloody Sunday and exposing Kim Philby as a Soviet spy embodied journalism in that oft-contested phrase the “public interest”.

Pointing to the coverage of the coronavirus pandemic by local papers, Stevens said that newspapers had played a vital role in keeping the public informed.

She added: “[During the pandemic] newspapers have played a vital role in providing clear information to readers as a defence against the fake news and disinformation spreading so wildly online. Newspapers have also shared stories of hope, of unsung heroes and fostered a sense of community when everyone was struggling. But the pandemic has had a devastating effect on newspaper finances which were already struggling.”

Stevens said that alongside the loss of political scrutiny, newspaper closing also meant that important and diverse voices such as Harry Evans’ would be a loss to society.

She said: “Local papers are closing and those that remain are too often having to cut staff, meaning fewer journalists with less time to find the stories that matter. It’s not a situation any journalist or editor wants to be in and it means that at a local level there is not the scrutiny that politicians and other local decision-makers need. It also means the pipeline of talent to the nationals is not there.

“Evans of course didn’t start off at the Sunday Times. It was at the Northern Echo where he first made his mark as editor in the 1960s, where his campaigns resulted in a national screening programme for cervical cancer and a posthumous pardon for a young man who had been wrongly hanged for murder in 1950. Journalism, more than many other trades, benefits from more diverse voices who do not just accept the status quo but question it. And that matters today, more than ever.”