The coronavirus crisis highlighted, particularly on World Press Freedom Day, a more humane, and perhaps more useful, perspective regarding the importance of reliable news reporting. At times like this, when societies are dominated by fear, the risk from ignorance and misinformation intensifies while the need for accurate documentation of events and thorough analysis of data grows.
Independent and accurate news reporting helps highlight sensibilities, exposes reactions, and influences social attitudes. It is a fundamental parameter for democracy to function smoothly. It helps reveal mistakes and omissions and, by extension, to correct dysfunctional behaviors and patterns in a way that benefits the whole.
In the age of fake news, credible journalism is waging a battle for survival. Obscure conspiracy theories, beliefs about schemes orchestrated by “certain people” with achieve sinister objectives, seem to get more attention than sober, fact-based, truth-seeking journalism. It’s the type of journalism which investigates and which seeks to provide an accurate account of events on the basis of scientific research and – in the case of Covid-19 – laboratory tests, and at the same time analyzes and evaluates events from an independent and objective perspective.
Regrettably, most people prefer to read, listen to, or watch a simplified and convenient version of developments, instead of having events presented to them in their full complexity. They prefer black-and-white in a world where “we” are white and the “others” are black. Everything is just easier to swallow this way.
The independent and unbiased journalist is called upon to perform his vocation amid this complex environment. He must dare to challenge political and business interests, separate truth from rumors and lies from half-truths (the latterare often more dangerous). He must deconstruct unfettered conspiracy talk. And he must do all that free from partisan blinders, ideological fixations and ties to alien interests. He must have the courage, as well as the ability, to see all different perspectives.
The pandemic, an issue of life and death, confirmed the risks which derive from misinformation and highlighted the vital importance of quality information.
In many places around the world, journalists who dare to expose the objective truth are persecuted and jailed. Occasionally, their very life is at risk. Independent and responsible news is a valuable asset whose contribution to society needs to be recognized and cherished.