Editorial

Fake news goes viral too: the argument for traditional media

Sunday, November 26, 2017

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In church this morning, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) — umbrella organisation of professional journalists and media workers — will begin a week of reflections that hopefully will make the annual National Journalism Week something more than a traditional gesture.

Truth be told, the PAJ exists more for its potential as a lobby group and defender of the journalism faith, than as a body engaging its members in their day-to-day lives, except maybe for the irresistible journalism awards presentation that gives bragging rights.

Still, this is not necessarily a bad thing. At least it is recognition that journalists need to have a body that can be oiled up and sharpened at a moment's notice to spring into battle against attacks on freedom of the press and the wider freedom of expression that is never truly guaranteed.

At 74 years old, the PAJ can boast of being the oldest and most organised — and we use the word organised very advisedly — of the press associations in the English-speaking Caribbean. It is still the standard by which the others, a handful at best, are judged.

So a week of contemplation and introspection, if PAJ members are moved so to do, could serve the media in Jamaica and the region, even if it's merely to identify the crazy battering that the media profession has taken in recent times and to be a fast-fading memory for the youngnewcomers.

Iconic journalists, like Mr Garfield Myers the Jamaica Observer's editor-at-large for South and Central Jamaica who is among those being honoured during Journalism Week 2017 must be bewildered and utterly amazed at the almost catastrophic changes occurring since those heady early 1970 days at the then monopoly the Gleaner newspaper.

For them, the media landscape must be virtually unrecognisable but for some hardy journalists who have survived by sheer will, grit, determination and love for an often thankless craft, in people like Phyllis Thomas; Cliff Hughes; Vernon Davidson; Garfield Grandison; Wilton Dyer; Dionne Jackson-Miller who, for her sins, is the PAJ president, and a few other tireless souls.

Reflect they must because social media has arrived like a raging flood for which control has to be found to balance its vast benefits with its calamitous dangers. It is not only mothers mercilessly beating their tender offspring that go viral. It is also the emerging monster of fake news.

Already dazed from the economic tsunami and the inevitable march of communication technology, the media profession must find the way to deal with the information jungle which is social media. Never has the mass media been more mass, more misused and less mediated.

For now, the traditional media, especially the newspaper, remain the last bulwark against that onrushing tide of media mayhem, its last vanguard in the defence of credible sources of information, but with its ramparts shaken to the core.

The question for the PAJ in National Journalism Week 2017 is: What will you do, or what can you do Punchinello little fellow?

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