Thursday 27 July 2017

Social media 'fake news' is a threat to democracy, says Press Council chief

Peter Feeney, Press Ombudsman, Denis Naughten TD Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Seán Donlon, Chair of the Press Council (Photo: Doug O'Connor)
Peter Feeney, Press Ombudsman, Denis Naughten TD Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Seán Donlon, Chair of the Press Council (Photo: Doug O'Connor)

Zainab Boladale

Press freedom and even democracy is threatened by the rise of social media sites that proliferate fake news, the chair of the Press Council has warned.

Sean Donlon said a lack of regulation among some social media platforms was a matter of concern - and yet companies such as Facebook and Google were "hoovering up" advertising and revenue.

He cautioned that "press freedom is an essential element of democracy".

"If the public requires access to accurate information and informed analysis then there may well be a return to print and broadcasting," said Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney.

"There are far more checks and balances, where traditional values of good journalism, accuracy, impartiality, depth and context are more likely to be found."

In a clear reference to fake news, he also added that "the Facebook organisation itself is fully aware that its own credibility is at risk from its posting of inaccuracies.

"It's a threat because more and more of advertising revenue is shifting from print (and indeed broadcasting) to the Googles, Twitters and Facebooks of this world. This has undermined the business model of print and broadcast journalism and has called into question how quality journalism can be funded in the future."

They were speaking at the launch of the Press Council of Ireland annual report.

The office received 261 complaints in 2016, down from 278 in the previous year.

The Press Ombudsman made 23 decisions in total, down from 34 the previous year, and nine complaints were upheld.

Mr Donlon welcomed the review of the Defamation Act and hoped it "would result in the possibility of lesser financial court settlements" faced by the media, and "more frequent use by complainants of the machinery of the Press Ombudsman and Press Council".

He described the handling of complaints as "fair, fast and free".

Communications Minister Denis Naughten said that "the best way to deal with the issue of fake news is to try to support the local content".

"I think it's very hard to regulate and control fake news and I think the best way to deal with that is to have reliable sources that people can rely on," said Mr Naughten. The minister also signalled that bursaries for young journalists would be expanded beyond broadcast media, and into print.

Irish Independent

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