Of all the many morsels of language that have been introduced through Internet jargon, one of the most recent and ridiculous is “fake news” or worse, “fake truth.” It is a process of accommodating events, or designing them, to suit the journalists covering a situation. And it is losing audiences.
We are accustomed to branding the spurious, the counterfeit and the forged as being faked, a word for which we have no source. But to qualify truth or news with the same voice seems outrageous, albeit making allowance for the limits set by what is “fake.” We thought that news was something worth noting because of its novelty, but it is no longer “breaking news” when it reaches the morning papers and equally not on the radio. It – that thing called news or information – is carried by Internet faster than any travel system in history. So people – readers, listeners, viewers – are turning their backs on the media because it is hardly news any more (articles stretching more than 500 words are not worth reading because that takes too much time, probably from chasing tweets). That, for all media, in Buenos Aires, London, or most places, wherever, is not credible.
“The media is not a complex collection of independent agencies holding the system to account, but an elite-directed component of that system.” I’m not sure who said that, perhaps it is in an essay by the English writer Andrew Harrison. But in any case it read well and hence is worth quoting. In other words, the media is equivalent to a retail store of any goods, with its content about as credible as a Spring offer. The media billionaires no longer bother to argue that they offer a service. Those caricature creatures justify the militant political critics in their claim that those who run the media only serve the interests of proprietors, who are usually allied to or are part of corporations that have as their main interest protecting the bosses’ yachts.
Such circumstances have pushed away the public, who have turned to the not-so-reliable but useful social networks. This does not mean that the social networks are in any way better, but their flashed items are an information resource as to where and what is happening. Commentary, which abounds, is aimed at the believer, not at informing anybody.
Some might think that here in Buenos Aires we are different because our corporations might be a bit better, but they are just developing a little slower. The lone small media group (paper, radio, cable TV) is probably struggling to serve a reasonable quantity of its limited quality (anything from gossip to economic forecasts). But who in our little world would try to believe a Cristóbal López or any single component of the 100 plus (yes, they were counted) media titles that owed allegiance to the Kirchner family thanks to cash handouts over a dozen years. You might like to rescue some credibility. Well, there is Daniel Hadad’s Infobae (although C5N does not pass any quality ratings, so we don’t know their figures) chain, which is passing well. It has held a following dating back to its beginnings with Radio 10, a sort of chummy gift from Carlos Menem of the old Municipal Radio frequency that captured most of the cab-driver population in Buenos Aires, previously loyal to the Córdoba station Cadena 3. Hadad’s enterprise looks good by contrast because it is still small, far from the Amazons or the Murdoch spreads of this world.
Competing for the local field, TN (Todo Noticias, owned by the Clarín Group) is a mish-mash of informal nonsense, with some good evening features that capture loyal viewers with specific political sympathies or special interest series (travel and “urban watch” style of coverage). For example, TN’s monolithic coverage of the savage Hurricane Irma through September, was not really supplying information but catering to a Susana Giménez fan club anxious to see how the wind hit Miami and nowhere much else. TN could be classed as shameful for that. At home, there are millions of hectares in Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Santa Fe, underwater and they have been so for much of two years in some cases. Probably TN, now pro-government, is playing at damage limitation for its audience. But thousands of farmers, villages and small businesses have been almost ignored and left to their luck. It is the one media channel that could put pressure on the government, both national and provincial (mainly Buenos Aires and Córdoba, usually squabbling over where the water should be channelled, i.e. not through their areas), to draw up a flood policy. That would be preferable to filming bent palm trees in Florida.
This would be enough to justify abandoning the media as a waste of time, as unreliable and not too attached to a genuine cause.
It is happening everywhere; in Britain (figures available for this year) confidence in UK media has fallen in recent years. According to communications agency Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer, in a survey of 1,500 Britons, the amount of people who said they trusted British news outlets fell from a low 36 percent in 2015 to a mere 24 percent at the beginning of 2017. The 2017 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute in Oxford, published in June, found that just 41 percent of British people agreed that the news media did a good job in helping them to distinguish fact from fiction. The figure for social media was lower at 18 percent. Among other quarters affected, the BBC is suffering a severe battering to its legitimacy and tradition of balance, which has been its hallmark for most of its life. Now that credit is fading.
News might not always be “fake” in the sense of a clear fabrication, but twisting the contents, jumping ahead of investigations or results to impact on the public, that is now frequently and disturbingly in practice. It might not be “fake” in the eyes of those who concoct a report or fiddle with data. Beating the news brief or announcement is common usage now, and detrimental in the eyes of the persons mentioned or even rubbished. All this involves methods in use, with the loss of public trust the inevitable effect.