YOUTH JOURNALISTS AND VIDEOGRAPHERS: Meet UNESCO

–– Book review by Patrick SCIARRATTA*
In the Spring 2019, the Director of the Media Education Center in Belgrade introduced me to a new ‘Handbook for Journalism Education and Training’ from UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, in Paris). 
MEC Director Miomir Rajcevic introduced me to the ‘handbook’ that is in fact a full course workup, reviewing at first what has been called ‘fake news,’ but discusses the topic in much greater detail – and its title betrays its thoughts on the subject.
Journalism, Fake News, and Disinformation” is the actual title.  (Available free, at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000265552)


Youth Journalists And Videographers: Meet UNESCO

I think it is a fascinating read, for the casual follower of news, particularly online, as well as for those seeking a complete primer, like student journalists. I think it is also a training gospel for any educator in the field interested in the wide and growing marketplace where news can mean almost anything these days.

“From politicians to marketers, from advocacy groups to brands — everyone who seeks to convince others has an incentive to distort, exaggerate or obfuscate the facts. (This book) seeks to equip participants with a methodology to detect fact-checkable claims and evaluate evidence critically, in line with ethical norms and standards.”  –  Journalism … Editors

The closest thing we can find to ‘fake news’ is satire, where the news is purposefully invented to get a laugh or make fun by exaggeration.  While that format works well on late night TV, it is less successful online: when posted, it has sometimes been viewed as real news.  This is an issue that the Onion, Charlie Hebdo, and other print-based news sources have had to deal with in recent years.

However, clearly, what is normally called fake news, is either misinformation, disinformation, or mal-information.  Other permutations also follow.

As the text Journalism … points out near the beginning of its treatise: at times, we simply get the information wrong.  That is misinformation and it can spread as fast as anything malicious on the internet’s superhighway.  An old adage goes that a false story can go around the globe before the truth wakes up and gets its shoes on.

Beyond the scourge of misinformation, we know that false information can be spread maliciously as disinformation. Disinformation is the intentional dissemination of purposefully incorrect information … for political, marketing, or other personal gain. 

A third category could be termed mal-information; information, that is based on reality, but used to inflict harm on a person, organization, or country. An example is a report that reveals a person’s sexual orientation without public interest justification. It is important to distinguish messages that are true from those that are false, but also those that are true (and those messages with some truth) but which are created, produced or distributed by “agents” who intend to harm rather than serve the public interest. Mal-Information is added to a conversation to ‘poison the well’ in a way that is not relevant to the rest of the news story. 

Each chapter flows well, one to the next.  Cherilyn Ireton’s editing of Chapter One, Truth, Trust and Journalism: Why It Matters sets up the preamble for the rest of this informative and very useful text.

“In the high-speed information free-for-all on social media platforms and the internet,” Ms. Ireton writes in her synopsis, “everyone can be a publisher. As a result, citizens struggle to discern what is true and what is false. Cynicism and distrust rule. Extreme views, conspiracy theories and populism flourish while once-accepted truths and institutions are questioned. In this world, newsrooms battle to claim and perform their historic role as gatekeepers whose product can help to establish the truth. At the same time, the rise of marketplaces for ‘strategic communications’ and ‘information operations,’ including active disinformation and mal-information, has become a major factor in the information ecosystem.”

For journalists and journalism students, the synopsis points to an understanding that the information environment is a’ changin’… and we need to learn, fast, how to respond to the challenges.  The best thing about Journalism … by UNESCO is that it methodically plots out every point in clear, easy to assimilate prose and includes lists of further reading, links and even assignments for the journalism student or faculty member to follow.  Each chapter provides a gifted overview of every facet within this compelling topic.

Further, the Synopsis continues to note, that, while more democratic, social media without legitimate gate-keepers, can promote: “the creation of echo chambers, polarization and hyper-partisanship, conversion of popularity into legitimacy; allowing manipulation by populist leaders, governments & fringe actors; encouragement of personal data capture and targeted micro-messaging & advertising below the radar, and disruption in the public square.”

BUT: It doesn’t have to be that way …

Some evolving tech-related initiatives to address misinformation, we are told, include: “a commitment to engineering out of search results and news feeds, what the platform deems to be fraudulent news; starving disinformation providers of click-driven advertising revenue; providing tech-driven solutions for verifying digital content and images; funding of supportive journalism initiatives that are at the intersection of journalism, technology and academic research; the development and use of technical standards, or trust signals, to help consumers (and algorithms) identify news emanating from credible providers; commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards, developing increased Author/Reporter expertise, asking: Who made this?, including details about the journalist, including their expertise and other stories they have worked on; the Type of Work: What is this?, labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored/‘native’) content from news reports; citations and references: for investigative or in-depth stories, and access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.”

The strength of social media communication is direct engagement.

Therefore journalists, casual viewers, and instructors should explore how media can better serve audiences and thereby build trust, strengthening their relationships and the broader community.

This summer, I accepted offers to deliver keynote addresses at the World Assembly of Youth’s Dialogue in Melaka, Malaysia (WAY, 19th MIYD) and at the Danube for Peace event from Rajcevic’s Media Education Center, taking place during the European Union’s 2019 City of Youth events in Novi Sad, Serbia. 

Albanian born WAY Secretary General, Ediola Pashollari, leads WAYs constituents for many years. They represent National Youth Councils (NYCs).  The NYCs respond mostly to Youth Ministries in their respective countries. Their opinions matter and what they learn is widely shared.  This session included a fascinating mix of Southeast Asian and other regional youth. I found them serious, intelligent, and innovative. They appeared to understand what they did not yet know – and wanted to learn as much as could be shared.

In Addendum 2 to this article, I include the outcome document from the 19th MIYD Titled: Declaration. It is much more than that  – the Declaration is a testament to quality-level work. It reflects well upon the Secretary General, her leadership and student team, and their delegate selection process.

For any youth organization or media resource interested in a global youth perspective on this important, viral topic – WAYs Declaration is itself a primer ‘from 30,000 feet up’ and ought not be missed.

Journalism … helped the youth at the 19th MIYD look beyond the individual trees of false news to reveal the forest of available, media information literacy available to them. Several, internationally recognized speakers addressed the eager youth activists from a variety of impressive perspectives. I noted at the time that recurring themes in these best practices talks were in some ways reflective of the basic advice revealed in the book and embodied in Schudson’s Six or Seven Things the News Can Do for Democracy:

  1. Provide fair and full information so citizens can make sound political choices; 2) investigate concentrated sources of power, particularly governmental power; 3) provide coherent frameworks of interpretation to help citizens comprehend a complex world; 4) tell people about others in their society and their world so that they come to appreciate the viewpoints and lives of other people, especially those less advantaged than themselves; 5) provide forums for dialogue among citizens, through pluralistic and interdisciplinary approaches to issues; 6) serve as a common carrier of the perspectives of varied groups in society; and 7) also serve (where so desired) as advocates for political programmes and perspectives, mobilizing people to act in support of these programmes, without however compromising verification standards and public interest.

Other topics covered in Journalism … include gaslighting, astro-turfing, trolling, information disorder (as exemplified by actual photos with incorrect reference and real issues with journalists having their bylines used alongside articles they did not write, or organizations’ logos used in videos or images that they did not create). Once again, information disorder is different than “fake” yet very malicious.

Later sections focused on the digital disruption of advertising; targeted online harassment of journalists; the erosion of trust in journalism and mainstream media; clickbait; and the need to advance Media Information Literacy (MIL).  Advancing our own MIL is a positive step we can all take, today.

Then, in Novi Sad, Serbia, I found a very different reality on the surface. 

The 2019 Danube for Peace gathering was a tool for inviting videographers and film-makers to focus on sustainable development, inclusion, reconciliation and peace, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, and mutual understanding. In a region where so many divisions have been the way of life for centuries, it is clear why the Media Education Center (MEC) takes this holistic view on making art. 2019 events focused on partnerships & networking for the SDGs.

It was a smaller group, due primarily to the funding pressures that many Eastern European NGOs are facing these days. Director Miomir Rajcevic brought together leaders in the video and television production field and youth who were eager to work on their own projects. 

The youth attendees were far less interested in any discussion or deconstruction of “fake news” – rather they appeared to accept that their news services had long provided them false narratives.  The differences between the two locations were stark: Asian youth are beginning to understand the need for fact-based decision-making and are eager to realize just that.  In Eastern Europe, false narratives in the media are so pervasive, that youth there appear to accept this state of affairs and simply issue their own media to make their own statements against discrimination, repression, and for regional reconciliation.

My main presentation in Novi Sad was amended so I could also share videos that, I hoped, would stimulate their creations. My presentation there ended with a challenge to make work as good or better than their best, and was an inspirational success – after the dull response to my earth-shattering opening news that the media can at times lie

Novi Sad and Melaka expressed very different responses to UNESCOs Journalism, Fake News, and Disinformation but in a way they were very similar: both met UNESCOs challenge with talented, engaged youth … interested in finding their place in the world of modern communications.

After a summer of travel that included stops in Thailand, Singapore, and Budapest, I am grateful for the opportunity it permitted me to share this valuable information as well as meet and learn from the youth and other professionals I encountered along the way.

Once again, the book itself is FREE via digital download. HERE:  https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000265552

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, U.S. Senator for the State of New York and Ambassador to India and the United Nations (1927-2003) famously said:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

————-

[*] Patrick Sciarratta is Media Co-Chair for the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference (#UNCSC2019); an editor at the NGO Reporter, with a circulation to over five thousand NGOs associated with the United Nations; editor of Global Connections magazine for UNA Westchester; Consulting Producer for The Biggest Risk, a new television show; member of the Executive Committee of NGO DPI, resident at the United Nations; Program Director for Public Events at the UN through the World Development Foundation; and President of the Vinculum Foundation, a private 501c3, tax exempt foundation in the USA.

Addendum – Where Credit is Very Much Due

Journalism,  ‘Fake News’ & Disinformation

Handbook for Journalism Education and Training

Editors: Cherilyn Ireton and Julie Posetti

Contributing Authors: Julie Posetti, Cherilyn Ireton, Claire Wardle, Hossein Derakhshan, Alice Matthews, Magda Abu-Fadil, Tom Trewinnard, Fergus Bell, Alexios Mantzarlis

Additional Research: Tom Law

Cover and Graphic Design: Mr. Clinton; www.mrclinton.be

Illustrations: UNESCO, First Draft and Poynter

CONTRIBUTORS

Magda Abu-Fadil is the Lebanon-based director of Media Unlimited

Fergus Bell is an expert in digital newsgathering and the verification of user-generated content. He is the founder of Dig Deeper Media

Hossein Derakhshan is an Iranian-Canadian writer, researcher and Fellow at Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School

Cherilyn Ireton is a South African journalist who directs the World Editors Forum, within the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)

Alexios Mantzarlis leads the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute

Alice Matthews is a news and current affairs journalist at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Sydney

Julie Posetti is Senior Research Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where she leads the Journalism Innovation Project

Tom Trewinnard is the Programme Lead on Meedan’s open source verification toolkit Check

Claire Wardle is the Executive Director of First Draft, and a Research Fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School

PHOTO CREDITS

 Cover: UNESCO/Oscar Castellanos

Module 1: Abhijith S Nair on Unsplash

Module 2: Christoph Scholz on Flickr

Module 3: Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Module 4: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Module 5: The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Module 6: Olloweb Solutions on Unsplash

Module 7: rawpixel on Unsplash

Back cover: rawpixel on Unsplash

External peer reviewers: Professor Ylva Rodny-Gumede, Department of Journalism, Film and Television, University of Johannesburg, South Africa; Basyouni Hamada, Professor, Department of Mass Communication, College of Arts, Qatar University; Prof Jayson Harsin, Department of Global Communications, American University of Paris.

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