It was as recently as January 22nd this year that White House correspondent KellyAnne Conway uttered the phrase “Alternative Facts”, but already it has become a staple in the heated discourse around social media, its potential effects on the distortion of facts and, most controversially, the outcome of referendums and elections.
To address the ongoing debate, the Royal Television Society invited some of the UK media sector’s leading voices to the Hospital Club to offer their standpoints. The session was chaired by veteran broadcaster Stewart Purvis.
In an inevitably high-energy and passionate discussion, the BBC’s Nick Robinson led a rallying call-to-arms against anyone in the political spectrum adopting the term ‘fake news’ to describe something they don’t like from their opponent. He highlighted the importance of ‘shared facts’ between news outlets in order to encourage informed public policy decision-making.
Offering a softer opinion on partiality in the news sector, Conservative MP (and former Culture Secretary) John Whittingdale stated that he “had no objection to someone starting a left- or right-wing TV channel if they brand it as that”, but argued that there must be an easily accessible and available platform that will not carry political bias.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s Director of Media Partnerships Patrick Walker, addressed the audience on behalf of the global company at the centre of the furore. Largely blamed for enabling widespread sharing of misinformation that may or may not have informed the outcome of several political earthquakes in recent times, Facebook has now pledged an initiative to tackle the subject of fake news. Walker outlined the company’s promise to ‘flag’ questionable news items within users’ feeds and highlighted Facebook’s Journalism Project (training journalists in using Facebook tools and fostering stronger links between the platform and news organisations) as a constructive response.
The Economist’s Anne McElvoy countered that Facebook’s flagging initiative would result in “an awful lot of flags” and argued that the company has reached a point that they can no longer specifically claim to be a technology company, stating that they “are editors, [they] just don’t want to admit it”.
The discussion continued into an audience-led series of questions, leaving attendees with plenty of food-for-thought. The topic of Fake News is clearly no clear-cut subject, and the debate is quite clearly just heating up…
Lumina was privileged to attend such a prescient event, and our thanks as always are extended to the RTS team for another fantastic evening.