This OECD Forum 2019 background note will be used to prepare speakers on the panel Reinvigorating Democracy: The Role of Journalism, taking place at the OECD headquarters from 11:30-13:00 on Tuesday, 21 May. Join the Forum Network to comment and help inform the upcoming debate and, whether you're with us in Paris or watching online, let us know what you think of the session!
A revolution has occurred in the way information is now produced and consumed. Each election is now a battleground of distortions and distractions, where facts are often obscured by polemics.
How do citizens make informed, democratic choices about the sort of society they wish to live in? The traditional media industry in many countries is facing massive disruption and the authority of the professional media – both in its sense of power and in the sense of being reliably accurate – has been stripped away. Everyone can be a journalist, can’t they? It is easy for anyone to blog or tweet their opinions to tens if not hundreds or even thousands of people.
Whom can we trust to provide us with accurate information? Who can hold power to account? Journalism – the rigorous and professional reporting of what is going on the world – is essential to democracy. But how can it survive when its traditional business model – advertising – has migrated to Facebook and other platforms? Should it be subsidised as a public good? But then who decides what counts as worthy of such support? Many established media organisations such as the New York Times and Le Monde put much of their content behind paywalls. But such strategies have been criticised for creating unequal access to information.
Combatting fake news has become a full-time industry – whether through the growing network of fact-checkers, or the specialised teams in media organisations to filter out false information. The problem is not just one of supply but also of demand. We search out news from people we trust such as friends or family. We click on information that appeals to our emotions. Meanwhile, social media algorithms make it less likely for us to be exposed to information that challenges or disproves our views.
Journalism is searching for new forms and there are many exciting developments and experiments going on. For some media, the future entails both informing and engaging its readers as a community that contributes to uncovering the truth. But trusting the information we consume is key. Journalists have to gain that trust. How they do so is a challenge on which the future of our democracies depends.
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