During a May 19 lecture at UCLA, four journalism experts examined the importance of media in a world where the term “fake news” is now part of the daily lexicon.
“Without media, some of democracy cannot function properly, and if you have mistrust in the media then the media cannot fulfill its societal roles,” said professor Eytan Gilboa, founder and director of the Center for International Communications at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
Gilboa made his statement as part of a panel titled, “ ‘Fake News’: New Media and the Changing Political Culture in the U.S. and Israel.” He spoke alongside Jane Elizabeth, managing editor of The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., and the Durham Herald-Sun; Anat Balint, a media scholar and lecturer at Tel Aviv University; and UCLA Department of Communication professor Tim Groeling. Around 40 people attended the event organized by the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.
During his presentation, Gilboa displayed a graph showing that the media is one of the least trusted institutions in the United States, especially among Republicans. “Democrats are much more trusting of the media than Republicans by huge gaps,” Gilboa said.
He added that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump have “observed these mistrusts of the media and capitalized on them, used them, exploited them for election and other purposes and gained from those accusations.”
Elizabeth spoke about the role social media has played in disseminating false stories, noting that fact-checking on Facebook is the “biggest game of whack-a-mole you’ve ever seen.”
She also spoke about “deep fakes,” which she described as the manipulation of video to make a person say something they never said. “This will be a problem in the 2020 election,” she added.
“When you attach the word ‘fake’ to news, you also aim at the work of journalists.”— Anat Balint
Balint spoke about slanted coverage in Israel, laying much of the blame on Netanyahu. She called the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is supported by pro-Israel philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, as a “propaganda platform personally oriented toward Netanyahu. It is a façade of a newspaper that doesn’t hold any journalistic value,” she said.
The news, Balint said, should be a conduit for honest public discourse. “When you attach the word ‘fake’ to news,” she said, “you also aim at the work of journalists.”
During her presentation, Balint showed an image of a huge Netanyahu campaign billboard for the April 9 Israeli elections showing Netanyahu and Trump shaking hands. She described both leaders as “disruptors of public discourse because of their attacks on the media,” adding that with the rise of social media and its increasing role in the news landscape, individual leaders have greater platforms than media outlets.
Groeling said some fake news sites exploit credible news sources, citing a website that intentionally resembled ABC News, which published a false story that there would be a do-over of the 2016 presidential election.
While there are fact checks to make up for erroneous reporting, they are not distributed as widely as the underlying stories, he said, adding that part of the problem for real journalists is that most people are not media experts and don’t enjoy spending time rigorously exploring the news.