News literacy – means to curb ‘fake news’
“News literacy is the acquisition of 21st-century, critical thinking skills for analyzing & judging the reliability of news & information, differentiating among facts, opinions & assertions in the media we consume, create & distribute. It can be taught most efficiently in cross-curricular, inquiry-based formats at all grade levels. It is a necessary component for literacy in contemporary society. ”
Important elements of News literacy are :- Information, Legitimate journalism (verification, independence & accountability) & Truth.
What is Information ?
Information is an important part of our society. People depend on it to guide them through complex world. The invention of movable type in 15th century Europe revolutionized the communication of ideas. This invention made it possible to print & publish information to masses of people. This free flow of information eventually led to a free press in many parts of the world. But because information is so powerful , many world leaders have tried to stop it. French leader Napoleon Bonaparte once said, ‘Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.’
The Chinese emperor who oversaw the building of the Great Wall famously used his power to stop published information. He ordered the burning of thousands of books on subjects he wanted to keep from the people. He even had hundreds of scholars executed for refusing to give up their books collection. Even powerful leaders in modern times have succeeded in blocking materials they do not want the people to see, as in Russia & China. But when true information is allowed to reach the people, good results can follow. Information has fueled successful revolutions in many nations. Government atrocities have been identified & world leaders have been forced to be held accountable for their actions.
Advances in media technology have made words & images more powerful & widespread than ever. Smartphones & social media have become quick & easy tools to receive & share news & information. These tools have even made it possible for anyone with a device to gather & publish “news”. This media environment makes it important for us to be able to recognize reliable information. True information gives us the facts to guide our decisions & actions. In addition to informing, news can also divert. This means it can focus our attention on something we are interested in as a kind of escape. An example would be news about subjects we seek out for enjoyment, such as entertainment, celebrities or sports. News can also serve as a way to connect us as human beings, This could include stories about tragedies or uplifting events that affect us emotionally. Such stories can lead people to join a cause or donate money to help those in need. No matter what kind of news we experience, we have to be able to tell whether it is authentic or not.
What is legitimate journalism ?
It is news that has been verified by an independent organization that is accountable for the information. Verification, independence & accountability are the characteristics of quality journalism.
Verification is the process of establishing that information is truthful & accurate. In 2004, the CBS News broadcast 60 Minutes II claimed it had documents critical of the National Guard Service of President George W. Bush. But CBS news failed to authenticate the documents & they were, in fact, forgeries.
Independence is a freedom from control or influence combined with impartiality. It includes objectivity, fairness & balance. But what is fairness ? What is balance ? Let’s take, for example the myth that the measles, mumps, & rubella vaccine is the cause of autism. This claim has been completely discredited, yet some Hollywood celebrities continue to endorse it, some backing an anti-vaccine film made by pseudo-scientists. By 2032, 80% of the boys born will end up on the autism spectrum. Should journalists reporting on autism give time to the position of the anti-vaccine believers ? No, they are not scientists. Their opinions cannot be balanced against scientific knowledge & certainty. Both sides are not equal & it is misleading to treat them equally.
Accountability is the process of taking responsibility for the reporting. New organizations should be clearly identified & journalists’ contact information, easily obtainable. But most importantly, they should be prepared to admit errors when they have been made. In 2005, the New York time asked the veteran reporter Judith Miller to resign after it became clear that her reporting about the Iraq war was wrong. The Times wrote an extra-ordinary critique of its own editorial. That is also an accountability.
What is truth ?
As we talked that legitimate journalism requires truth. But what is truth ? Truthful reports comes from using facts that can be confirmed. Truth is a journey that evolves over time. In Iran, recently, massive street demonstrations took place throughout the country. When news organizations reported on these events, the evidence was clear. Images of the protests appeared on the television. But not all the evidence is captured on digital equipment. Sometimes evidence comes in the most unreliable form – memory. A journalist seeking the truth should interview as many witnesses as possible in the search of true story.
‘News literate’ ?
At last, for us to be a ‘news literate’, we need to set aside our personal biases, diversify our news sources, distinguish between journalism & other forms of information; in order to refrain ourselves from participating as believer & promoter of ‘fake news’.