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Fake news is still a problem

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News Clint Chan Tack Monday May 3, 2021

Dr. Sheila Rampersad –

SOME regional media practitioners on Monday discussed the challenges traditional media outlets face from fake news and disinformation when trying to accurately cover the news, especially during the Covid19 pandemic.

They gave their views during a webinar organized by UNESCO to commemorate World Press Freedom Day.

The media association of TT President Dr. Sheila Rampersad praised the efforts of all regional journalists who continued their work during the pandemic. She commended journalists in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the extra work they had to do after the La Soufrière volcano erupted last month.

Rampersad stressed the need for all journalists and media houses to be accountable for the information they present to the public. It is wrong for people to conclude that traditional media failures in their reporting mean they are spreading fake news or disinformation.

“A mistake is not fake news or disinformation.”

She also said that public distrust of official information channels creates an environment where fake news can thrive as people ingest information they think they can trust.

“It’s not a problem with the media. It’s a problem with the government.”

While some Caricom countries have freedom of information laws, Rampersad argued that these may not go far enough. She added that while TT has such legislation, there are limits to what kind of information the media can access.

Rampersad also identified media illiteracy as a common problem in the region, including “a disturbing level of ignorance” among authorities about the precise role of the media.

St. Kitts and Nevis Information Service’s director general Lesroy Williams said, “The government must not view the press as an enemy.”

Referring to his experience in independent and state media, Williams said the media must hold the government accountable and be the guardian of society.

Williams said social media has posed a major challenge to traditional media as “people hide behind social media to spread disinformation.”

He added that a lot of people use fake identities to do this.

“It’s so confused what’s being posted out there on social media.”

Williams also said that some people often push political agendas for specific parties or individuals.

Political scientist Devaron Bruce said that many younger people choose to get their news through social media as opposed to traditional media. He claimed that both social and traditional media can create “ecosystems and echo chambers of disinformation” if their respective contents are not properly factually checked.

Bruce said that there are some people who are “media influencers”, who may or may not be affiliated with traditional media houses, who influence public opinion through their social media posts. He said they must not be suffocated, but informed about what exact information is and what is not.

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