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How do you cover powerful people who lie? - Recommendations for journalists

30.01.2017, 12:48

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism develops recommendations on how journalists write about Trump and his administration in general and about the people in power who lie, Media Sapiens reports.

The initiators were the director of research Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, former chief editor of the Guardian and the RISG committee chairman Alan Rusbridger and RISJ employee Heidi T. Skjeseth.

The document "Alternative Facts: how do you cover powerful people who lie" is available for viewing and editing  by all who willing. Now, it has 10 units: general vision of the problem, examples in the US, how can journalists deal with "powerful liars", examples of how journalists from other countries cope with a problem, what does this mean in the future for the public and politicians and a list of materials for further study of the problem.

This important challenge has been brought into sharp relief by the 2016 US Election campaign, President Trump, and by his advisor Kellyanne Conway’s notion of “alternative facts” as well as White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer’s statement “sometimes we can disagree with the facts”, - the document states.

Reuters implied decimal statement that is knowingly false, "lies or “alternative facts” are not a matter of opinion or perspective, but of demonstrably false statements."
Here are some recent examples from the US, they are focused on the incoming administration: Donald Trump has repeatedly denied that he ever made statements clearly and demonstrably on the public record, including denying Tweets about Alicia Machado, denying that he mocked a disabled reporter, denied that he questioned the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

"These issues are part of the hustle and bustle of a healthy, combative democratic society, marketplace of ideas, and public life. The question is whether people in power lying in a serial and systematic fashion is qualitatively different." - the document says. "The Trump administration is hardly the first to spin results. But judging by their track record so far, their attempts to openly contradict numbers and facts goes far beyond what we have seen, at least in the US."

Experts from the Reuters Institute suggest:

  • Don’t obsess over tweets and inflammatory remarks, they can serve as a distraction.
  • Focus on what people do, not what they say. Don’t get distracted by Twitter. Follow the money and actual, substantial, binding decisions made.

  • If people trust politicians more than reporters, you have to ask yourself why and how you might overcome that distrust.

  • Access journalism is a dangerous thing and will be used against you. Political journalism needs to “switch to an “outside in” (rather than inside out) pattern” and argued news organizations should “send interns to the daily briefing when it becomes a newsless mess [and] move the experienced people to the rim.”

  • Journalists need to collaborate across outlets to hold power to account, for example by repeating questions asked by others but ignored at press conferences

  • Journalists need to avoid going with the pack, tempted by easy headlines and tons of clicks: “the press may be tempted toward — and richly rewarded for — a kind of hysterical oppositionalism, a mirroring of Trump’s own tabloid style and disregard for truth.”

Experts, also, are questioning whether journalism enough to counter the lies when the most powerful people are using lies to their advantage? "We might need to engage the public in a more efficient way to be able to call out the lies and to find ways to deal with them." - experts say.



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