Asking for trust: Jonathan Heawood

JONATHAN Heawood, the CEO of the press regulatory body IMPRESS has claimed that ‘fake news’ has become a real threat to journalism. In a speech at Westminster Media Forum, the CEO highlighted the threat and the very real risk it poses to the modern media.

Representatives from Facebook, The Guardian, ipso and Russia Today spoke at the half-day seminar which was chaired by Baroness Wheatcroft.

Jonathan Heawood told delegates that  IMPRESS  defines fake news as the knowing and consistent publication of predominantly false information in the guise of news. In other words, it is information that looks like news but is not news.

Speaking at length about the growing phenomenon he said: “We think it is wrong to confuse fake news with bad journalism. Even the best journalists can make mistakes. And even the worst journalists can sometimes get things right. Some sites are not ‘fake news’; they are simply news publications with poor standards of journalism.

“Nor is fake news simply news you disagree with. Print and digital publishers in the UK are free to be partisan. Even an impartial broadcaster might present a story in a way that antagonises you. But that does not make it fake news. If we used the term in this subjective way, all news ever produced would be ‘fake’ to someone, somewhere.

“In fact, the weaponisation of the term ‘fake news’ to justify political attacks on the media may pose a greater threat than fake news itself. It deepens the trust crisis that is already plaguing our news economy, and contributing to a crisis in democracy. That is why we need to be very precise in our use of the term, and not conflate fake news with either bad journalism or news you disagree with.

“So the fake news phenomenon encompasses both fake news itself and the use of the term to denigrate professional journalism. That is why we are all talking about fake news, and that is why we are talking about regulation: because the civic role of journalism is in danger.

“The public do not trust the news media. As a result, they are open to fake news. And because they do not understand or respect the difference between fake and professional news, they trust the news media even less. The fake news phenomenon is contaminating the whole industry and the whole civic purpose of journalism.”

 

Speaking about tackling the issue of fake news the CEO highlighted research, which he listed as four pillars of trust:

  • Ability. We want to know whether this person or company has the relevant skill, understanding and professionalism.
  • Benevolence. Do they show interest in our lives?
  • Integrity. Do they live out their organisational values?
  • Predictability. Do they have a consistent track record?

IMPRESS is a recently launched press regulatory body, which offers publishers a structure including a code and a number of policies to adopt to highlight the fact that publishers are a trusted source of journalism and are accountable.

 

A growing number of news publications have signed up to be regulated by IMPRESS. Jonathan Heawood said: “Our membership is going up all the time, but last time I checked, the figures looked like this:

  • We regulate 33 publishers, responsible for 60 publications, reaching an estimated 2.5 million readers per month.
  • A further 22 publishers are undergoing compliance checks.
  • 69 complaints have been received.
  • One complaint has reached adjudication.
  • One arbitration has been completed.

“The publishers who are joining IMPRESS see the value in a form of independent and effective regulation that helps them to earn their audience’s trust. By holding themselves accountable under our code, they demonstrate their professional standards. They make a public commitment to be transparent about their interests, and to treat anyone who complains to them with respect. In return, they get to display our trust mark in their publications and on their websites.”

Llanelli Online has already applied to join IMPRESS.

You can read the full report here

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