Building peace in the minds of men and women

Journalism is an ally in the fight against disinformation, Hanoi conference hears

21 March 2019

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UNESCO's Guy Berger and Fojo's Jaldeep Katwala launch the Vietnamese translation of the UNESCO's handbook
© UNESCO

Professional journalism can be, and needs the space to be, an effective antidote to disinformation.

This was the message of UNESCO director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger, at the Vietnam Internet Forum held in Hanoi this week.

He was speaking on a panel to launch the Vietnamese translation of the handbook titled “Journalism, fake news and disinformation”. The version was enabled by Swedish journalism training institute, Fojo, whose Jaldeep Katwala moderated the panel.

“This handbook shows that journalism as verifiable information in the public interest is a bulwark against false facts which are often presented on social media as if they were genuine news,” said Berger.  “To play this role, journalism needs to expose both these falsehoods as well as those actors who are responsible for disinformation”.

He provided the example of dis- and mis-information about the alleged dangers of vaccinations, and warned that disinformation targeted science as well as journalism.. 

The original publication is part of the series on strengthening journalism education, and was financed through UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

Asked about what can be done to protect journalists from being jailed, the UNESCO director said it was important to persuade the authorities to “tolerate the devil they know, rather than skew the playing field towards the devil of disinformation which is often active out of sight such as on social messaging”.  

Any actions against journalists should be according to the law, and in the event of sanctions such as for defamation, these should also be necessary and proportionate as per international standards for legitimate limits on freedom of expression, he added.

Responding to a question about whether audiences today are “smarter” or not, the UNESCO director said it was important for journalists to address popular frustrations with mainstream media for focusing on elite or governmental information at the expense of credible news about ordinary people.

“It is very easy to lose public trust, and journalists can only compete with ‘click-bait’ and fabricated facts if they show that they use professional standards in order to continuously earn their credibility as being reliable sources of information”.

Also speaking on the panel was Dinh Thi Thuy Hang, dean of the Public Relations and Advertising, of the Academy of Journalism and Communication. She urged journalists to uphold high standards and resist being manipulated by public relations and falling victim to public relations.

Bui Le Anh Thu, a journalist at Thanh Nien News, told the panel that journalists needed to be transparent and follow public interest standards.

UNESCO also organized a panel on ICT skills at the Vietnam Internet Forum, releasing research on the subject with data from four countries in South East Asia.

Moderated by Jonghwi Park, programme specialist, speakers on the panel raised issues of coding and algorithms, digital citizenship, cyber-bullying and gender imbalances in ICT personnel.