Fake News and Freedom of the Media

Analyse the contemporary understanding of fake news with that of freedom of expression and see in what cases fake news can be prosecuted or punished and in which case fake news should be left alone.

Research informing summary:
Journal article: Fake News and Freedom of the Media (2018)
Peer Reviewed
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About:

This research used a qualitative approach and documentary analysis method.

This qualitative study was the outcome of documentary research

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Funding:

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

Key points

  • The research into fake news is important for security concerns and it is also very important to understand the dangers of governmental control of information.

The aim was to reach governments, policy makers, diplomats and security experts with background information and research done on what is fake news and how it relates to freedom of the media.

This is because they would treat fake news, in most cases, as such: as a threat to security or as something which is bad, but they would not necessarily put it on a balance with a need to respect human rights and freedom of expression in particular. The general notion of propaganda appeared again in international relations and debates on freedom of the media in around 2014. This became more specific when politicians started to talk about fake news in America around 2016-2017 and therefore I decided to focus more on disinformation, keeping in mind that it is part of propaganda.

The research was needed because a new emerging phenomenon appeared when politicians, such as Trump, started talking about fake news as a way to label any media contrary to his views as fake news. There are two aspects: fake news as disinformation and fake news as a political populist way to label the media which you do not like.

Findings

  • Fake news as a label is terrible, as a phenomenon it is quite complex and whenever you treat fake news you have to keep in mind freedom of expression.

    Freedom of expression is not only about freedom of expressing truths or truthful facts, but it also includes freedom to express falsities and false facts.

  • I looked into the documents of international organizations, intergovernmental organizations starting with the League of Nations and proceed in the United Nations mostly in the post war era where false news were considered a threat to peace and then I also looked at the definitions of freedom of expression and freedom of the media and also the value of human rights in today’s world and put them next to each other to see how they relate to each other.

  • Another important layer of discussion was related to the European Union because they pay the most attention to fake news in international politics.

    The main evidence used was the documents of the League of Nations, United Nations, European Union and the Council of Europe. Also, I benefited a lot from discussions I had with diplomats in Vienna on propaganda and disinformation.

What it means

It is clear that the idea of freedom of expression is stronger today than it was 100 years ago. Misinformation and fake news are not new phenomena.

The aim was to look back into history and to see how the governments and policy makers dealt with the phenomena in the past. False news was considered a dangerous thing from the very beginning of the civilised world, and they were considered dangerous for relations between nations. If a government disseminates falsities about neighbours, then the public feels hate, animosity; and it is easier to manipulate the population of your country if you want to start an armed conflict or shift attention.

There is no government that wants to spread lies. Formally, there is a universal approach that disinformation in the hands of the governments is a negative phenomenon, but still there is no universal instrument to say that and to treat that.

How to use

  • It is high time for governments to draft such a pledge, a commitment, in order to not spread misinformation themselves and to explain why and what is disinformation and how it can be controlled: Disinformation is a practical problem for many in today’s world, especially with the development of social networks and online information. I believe that such an effort would help debunk misinformation when it is dangerous.
  • The best instrument to fight misinformation is to have the issue on the agenda of every family, not just every government
Special thanks to Carmen Gabriela Lupu for preparation assistance

We would like to extend a special thank you to Carmen Gabriela Lupu, for their invaluable contribution in assisting the preparation of this research summary.

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Richter, Andrei. 'Fake News and Freedom of the Media'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/fake-news-and-freedom-of-the-media/