#31 – The Declining Trust in News

What is news?

I have learnt journalism independently for four years, yet I can never answer this question without the slightest bit of doubt. For media professionals, this question goes beyond textbook-based definitive thinking. It questions the line between news and other kinds of written text—something that is never been easy to define.

It is clear that none of us have the same understanding of what news is nowadays. Some define any form of written texts as so, such as marketing content writing and propaganda releases. News used to mean fact-based reports—but how far do we can actually twist the facts to be considered as news?

The problem goes beyond the area of objectivity, and rather on the changing definition of news. Propaganda and marketing-based contents have always been there, yet those things have never been claimed as news. So does fake statements and the like. Recently, however, reports containing those elements can be publicly claimed as fake news.

I believe in the essence of good journalism and an objective set of truths at its core. Journalism and its products, news, have to be seen with the same idealistic perspective as it was when first introduced. Pragmatism, as it is now adopted in developing the term fake news, brings about similar perspective on journalism practices. It emphasizes on the idea that news and journalism can be wrong, though in my perspective, both can never be wrong.

Journalism is an idealistic concept with a set of elements hard to be met. And yet it has to be kept as so. Quiestioning the truth of journalism is the same as questioning humanity. The ones that were in the wrong are the humans, the actors. Journalism and humanity, on the other hand, are the idealistic values that can never be deemed as wrong because it have served its purpose as the foundations of thoughts and actions. Statements and journalists’ practices can lie, but journalism and news can never lie.

It is interesting if we traced back how the trend of fake news came to be in 2016. It was because of Trump. And, as we know, everything about him goes into trending topics on those days.

The term fake news was originated from Trump’s campaign statement. He called out the media that had written negative reports on him as had written fake news. However, as all of those who learn a bit of journalism know, no news is ever faked—there are simply news and non-news. And it is perfectly justifiable for journalists to take a certain angle and frame their issues, as long as they use relevant facts and follow the principles of journalism. The quality is another matter altogether.

On that note, some of the media Trump mentioned as providers of fake news are CNN and New York Times as recorded here.

Donald Trump’s Twitter Post (taken from here)

The fake news campaign by Trump got even more massive after the 2016 election. Before trump was acknowledged as the chosen president candidate, several media outlets conducted polling on public opinion of the candidate with varying results. Recently, the pollings’ focus have been redirected to their satisfaction of Trump’s actions. Trump, however, being as arrogant as he is, claimed that any negative polls are fake news as reported here.

Donald Trump’s Twitter Post (taken from here)

So does that mean every form of news have to follow a person’s satisfaction?

There used to be a saying that no news is good news. News was seen as a critical report on public issues, and so the good news was only seen as government’s publications and propaganda. Personally I do not believe fully in this statement, but I’m not going to discuss on that any further.

Seeing Trump’s case in direct contrast with the logic, however, implied that there’s this change of pattern in perceiving news promoted by public figures. News are supposed to be good, not in a sense that it should serve to the public as it is portrayed in every journalism books, but rather on how it should promote the idea of maintaining the structure of governance.

It was purely political, but then the term spread like wildfire. Every form of texts deemed as irrelevant or questionable is now easily labeled as fake news. And so does non-journalism processed texts such as propaganda and marketing contents.

Take the Islamic propaganda during Ahok’s case, for example. While not actually being published by media institutions and based in news products, some of those propaganda texts are publicly claimed as fake news.

Is the use of term justifiable enough for you?

Associating journalism and news with the term fake is problematic in many ways. On a macro scale, the trend of associations builds up the idea that news and journalism have faults and cannot be seen as ideals. In theory, this can directly lead to the declining public’s perspective and perceived quality of news and media institutions.

In the long term, the idea puts higher burdens on the quality of journalism practices, so we might be able to see quality news in the future. But for now, we enter the age of distrust.

Can the premise be proven?

Edelman, a globally-renowned public relations agency, conducts a yearly research on the public trust on media, NGOs, business, and government. On their recent 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, it was found out that the public trust in media decreased greatly compared to last year’s report. The global percentage of trust in news declined from 48 to 43 compared to last year, making media one of the distrusted institutions.

I emphasize that the declining number is a public matter, not just for the media industry. In business, it affects PR significantly.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2017 on Trust in Media (taken from here)

Fun fact—Indonesia was not one of those 82% of countries that distrusted the media. In fact, the percentage of trust in news in the country increased by 4% in early 2017.

Some analyst might rationalize this graph as the tendency of emerging trust in developing countries as debated in 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer here. Some other might debate that it was the impact of late-trend booming from developed to developing countries as it is with technology application. I have my own argumentation—that in fact, aside from those two factors, the trust in Indonesian media is influenced by the rough translation of fake news idea.

The term fake news never managed to be able to stand still in Indonesian public. Do you notice how Indonesians tend to use the term hoax rather than the literal translation of fake news—berita palsu?

Different adoption of language can also impact on its receivability in public. As Indonesian public tend to use the term fake news less than hoax, they do not seem to leverage the associations of media institutions into propaganda and marketing-based platforms. Media is the one giving out facts, and news is their trustworthy product. The premise is yet to change in the country, and that’s a good thing to look up for.

Whether the logic used is true or not, we’ll found out by 2018.

Oh and just so you know, I am in opposition of the use of the term fake news

Lintang Cahyaningsih

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