BY : Chiara Carter | Editor | Daily Dispatch
In the hierarchy of human needs consumption of information features not much below the very basics of survival. Part of being human is having an appetite for knowing stuff and this dates back to that apple falling from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. But, to continue the mythological reference, one sometimes comes across poisoned apples. Or, for that matter, ones that are badly bruised. Information is not always reliable, or true. And right now, the world is awash with half-truths and fake news. Getting the facts right matters. This has become a lot more difficult for people as technology has grown more sophisticated. We now run the risk of being misled by shady forces around the world – from politicians wanting our votes to shady businesses wanting our money.The ready distortions of the digital realm can have dire consequences – from teenagers resorting to self-harm to people adopting xenophobic and extremist stances. In fact, a number of experts have red-flagged disinformation as so pervasive that it is well on the way to becoming a “threat to democracy”, and the relationship between the press and democracy was the central theme of events held around the world to mark the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Day earlier this year. Disinformation is an attack on people’s right to make up their minds on the basis of accurate information. Elections, from the US to Somalia, are vulnerable to deliberate disinformation campaigns. Therefore, it is important for people to check the veracity of what they read and hear, and this is where the established press plays an important role.
Professional media are not infallible but journalists are trained to sift through claims and distil information, and they can – and should – be held to account. In a digital age, more than ever, (good) journalism matters. This is journalism that does not only share information but places those facts in context.Without good journalism, citizens would lack the necessary information about the government, public institutions such as the courts, events in their neighbourhoods. This would impact adversely on their decision-making.
For democracy to work, the press has to be free – both independent of political party interference and free from commercial conflicts of interest, as far as possible. Journalists must serve the interests of the public and be conduits of credible information.
Through the years newspapers have helped to control corruption, both public and private, as readers of the Daily Dispatch know only too well, and our award-winning investigative journalism has often had consequences, leading to the powerful being made to account and empowering ordinary citizens. New technology does not mean we can “abdicate from our old responsibilities”. While the Daily Dispatch increasingly moves to embrace the digital age with DispatchLive growing our audience incrementally, the basics of reporting remain essential: get it first and get it right.
This is needed more than ever for people to make sense of the ever-changing world. Think, for example, of things like climate change and complex financial machinations – these are things that are not easily understandable without the skills expert journalists utilise to amplify and explain. What is at stake in the burning issues of the day are made the more comprehensible by not only publishing different viewpoints but also bringing thought leaders together on stage to debate at the Dispatch Dialogues, which are live streamed to an audience around the world.
All the fragments of events and stories that swirl around in our information-overloaded world need to be pulled together in order to provide a snapshot, or better still a multi-layered portrait, of our society. This is not always a comfortable picture but sometimes is a gloriously, golden celebration of our society’s achievements. It is through emphasising and indeed insisting on quality journalism which people can trust and which stands for clear values that going into the future the Daily Dispatch, print and digital, will continue to be a valued institution in the Eastern Cape where it has played a major role for so long. This is not a novel approach; it is the direction taken by both the esteemed New York Times and the Guardian and has seen both titles flourish in recent years. he Daily Dispatch is integral to the life of the Eastern Cape and its communities from greater East London to well across the Kei. With the support of our valued readers, we intend to continue vigorously to play this role.