Fake News In Focus

A few months ago, way back in the mists of time, the Daily Mail reported that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had banned the flying of the Union flag for the Queen’s birthday, which was proven to be misleading as, two days later they were forced into printing that they ‘apologise to Ms Sturgeon for the contrary impression given’.

This could be viewed as a latest example of “Fake News”, which has become a news story in itself, especially when we look at the narrative presented on both sides of the recent US Election.  Arguably, fake news has been around for much longer than the recent rise in reported news stories on Social Media. Misinformation and propaganda was an important part of World War II strategy between the Axis Powers and the Allies. Portrayal of the enemy, using words and imagery, were all designed to undermine the opposition.

In the 1980s, there are various examples of Fake News. Due to a lengthy public enquiry into the reporting of the Hillsborough Disaster, questions have been asked about the motives and reporting of the news surrounding this disaster. In 1989, 96 Liverpool supporters were tragically killed during an FA Cup Semi-final at the home ground of Sheffield Wednesday. The horrific events that day were misconstrued, miscomprehended and misreported by certain newspapers who claimed that the blame lay with the Liverpool fans themselves. This caused a huge amount of distress amongst the victim’s families and the ordinary people who had witnessed the tragic scenes on the day.  This is a striking example of “Fake News” and it raises some serious questions on the integrity of printed journalism and regulation of the media. Why do newspapers such as the Sun, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail amongst others keep on making these same mistakes?

The BBC news website also ran the story about Nicola Sturgeon and the Union Jack flag. The main difference here is that the BBC were reporting on the headlines that were being printed by the aforementioned newspapers. Arguably, perhaps we can see why there is some mistrust of the BBC amongst some people in Scotland. By publishing these stories on their website, they could be seen to fan the flames of the narrative that the First Minister of Scotland is so anti-union that she choose to ban the flying of the Union Jack on Public Buildings. Ms Sturgeon for her part claimed that this was “ridiculous”.

The BBC Charter details that the Corporation remain impartial at all times, especially with regards to news reports. In the main, the BBC continues to be viewed, by the majority at least, as an unbiased broadcaster. The same cannot be said of the printed press, for there is no overall Charter to regulate them. Like the broadcast platforms, there is a watchdog tasked with overseeing the output of the individual organisations, the Press Complaints Commission, however, according to the Leveson Report, published in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal in 2012, the P.C.C was ‘unfit for purpose’, the Independent Press Standards Organisation replaced this overseer in 2014.

So, beyond the IPSO, it seems that the main decision to publish a story is left with the Editor, and this exposes the main flaw with regards to the running of a story in a newspaper. Whether the bias is Left or Right, the outcome is arguably the same and if a “Fake News:” story suits the narrative of the Editor and the newspaper owner then it could be argued that “Fake News” will continue to the be the story in itself.

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