Keeping Your Balance in an Age of Post-Truth
"Quick reporting reflecting [people's] lives and concerns" is what's needed in contemporary journalism, according to a panel of television industry experts.
Alex Chandler (General Election Editor ITN), Rachel Corp (Editor 5News), Jonathan Levy (Head of Newsgathering Sky News), and Jon Zilkha (Controller of Channels BBC) - chaired by ITV news anchor, Nina Hossain - spent an
evening discussing Balance and Impartiality in a Post-Truth Age at ITV Central on the South Bank on Monday October 2nd.
“Stop watching the news, the news contrives to frighten you”, the singer Morrissey wrote earlier this year, however, figures suggest that people are still watching the news, but they are watching with scepticism.
Who is still watching TV news?
BBC News content reached “92% of UK adults during the General Election period, that included 91% of 18-34 year olds”, explained Zikha, but people are also desperate to hear stories that “reflect their lives and concerns”.
The high viewing figures at BBC News are mirrored at Channel 5 News, but Corp believes that - at her network - high numbers are due to a conscious attempt to appeal to a non-London audience.
“Our viewers, generally, are northern. They’re from the Midlands, the north-east and Scotland, they don't identify with the liberal elite."
She later continued, “on the day Article 50 was triggered, we weren’t reporting from Westminster, we were reporting from Birmingham”.
As Sky News’ Levy pointed out, statistically, “TV is still the most popular news format. But we
have a problem with trust”.
As mistrust in the ‘mainstream’ media has grown, so have the number of online news sites as people try to find their preferred news narrative.
“News is currently a very crowded marketplace, explained Chandler. “You can scroll through Twitter reading what you like and ignoring what you don’t creating your own bubble.“
Sites like The Canary and Guido can get hundreds of thousands of hits a week, but aren’t subject to the same strict
regulation as mainstream broadcasters.
“When we get things wrong, we have to put our hands up” explained Chandler, using the example of when Channel 4 News wrongly accused an imprisoned man of being the Westminster terror attacker. “Other media don’t have to
accept when they get it wrong”.
Using the example of the Canary’s recent accusations that BBC Politics Editor, Laura Kunessberg, was a planned
speaker at the Conservatives’ Autumn conference, the panel highlighted the discrepancies between broadcast and online journalism.
The story was quickly debunked on Twitter, but even with a “mealy-mouthed" apology from the Canary, it is still available to read in its original form.
Lies are out there, and they’re not necessarily being taken down”. “If [that story] been broadcast, we would have been forced to apologise”, the panel added.
What can be done to guarantee that news remains trustworthy? The news bosses were of the opinion that work needs to be done on both sides.
“We have to be willing to show our workings more”, explained Zilkha, as well as “getting out into communities, find
stories and distributing them”.
Expert and interested opinion shouldn’t be ignored, suggested Corp, “people should have opinions, we need specialists”.
These efforts could help create the “more conversational, normalised discourse” that Chandler believes to be crucial to rebuilding trust in the media.
But new media are not without blame. “There is the space for smaller sites like the Canary” in the news market, “butthey have to be held to the same standards” as traditional broadcast journalism to ensure a reliable and accurate
The one hundred and thirty strong audience,including a party of sixteen year old girls from a North London School went into the night reassured, if not entirely convinced.