Reflections from the seminar ‘Journalism in a Post-truth World’

Apr 22, 2024 | Interdisciplinarity, Spotlight, Transformations (Issue 12)

Image courtesy of Margarita Staykova

The IAS was delighted to join forces with South college to develop and run an event ‘Journalism in a Post-truth World’ on 5 March 2024. We were joined by exciting speakers and panellists who raised important questions about the role of media in post-truth era. Professor Tim Luckhurst, Principal of South College, published a thought provoking reflection on the role of social media, authoritarianism and experts in advance to the event (please see here). Below is a further reflection from Professor Ian O’Flynn, one of the speakers at the event.

 

Reflections from Professor Ian O’Flynn, IAS Fellow
Professor of Political Theory, School of Geography, Politics, and Sociology, Newcastle University

I took part in an IAS event on Journalism in a Post-Truth World on 5 March 2024.  As the event’s title suggested, we were interested in exploring the implications of propaganda, disinformation and scepticism about ‘the truth’ for the future of journalism. More broadly, we were concerned about their implications for the good of democracy itself.

For example, as Bridget Kendall (BBC’s former Russian and Washington correspondent) pointed out, propaganda and disinformation are nothing new. However, today’s disinformation is arguably much more dangerous. New information communication technologies have not only increased the speed at which disinformation is disseminated, but have made it much harder to detect. With newspapers, it remains possible to detect an editorial ‘thumbprint’. But with social media platforms such as Facebook, editorial intent is not at all obvious.

My own contribution focused on defining ‘post-truth’. As I argued, the term cannot mean that there are no truths; one cannot sensibly deny that it is raining when in fact it is raining. However, the term does seem to signal something about one’s attitude towards the truth; it suggests that truth, or seeking to be truthful, simply does not matter.

If the truth did not matter, democracy would be in serious trouble. Decision-making would be reduced to the power to impose one’s will on others. Careful deliberation about the facts would have no place. Thankfully, the evidence suggests that ordinary people do care about the truth. But journalists must play their role in providing them with good, balanced information. They must help the public to care – to engage, not enrage. Instead of merely serving as partisan mouthpieces, they must think of themselves, ethically, as facilitators of meaningful public deliberation. We need not take every truth-claim at face value. But discerning the truth should nevertheless be our aim as we engage together democratically.

 

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