What are the eight main problems in today’s media?
- Freedom of the press and credibility are at risk:Perfidious attacks by leaders who systematically defame, marginalize and subdue the media. Truth becomes untruth and untruth becomes truth. Many politicians are permanently attempting to curb criticism in the media.
- Mainstream media’s submissive attitude towards political power: There are too many journalists taking on the role of flattered court reporters and betray the ethos of their profession. Their commitment to truth and independence of thought is underdeveloped. Too many have become the auxiliary troops and brave propaganda instruments of powerful individuals and political parties.
- Tirelessly debating the same topics. Most talk shows produce only the illusion of dialogue. The same individuals uttering similar statements keep reappearing. There is hardly meaningful discussion. Instead, celebrities indulge in self-portrayal offering nothing new and little depth.
- News is dominated by an orgy of negativity, evil and a multitude of world problems. Daily scare tactics ignore true, good and beautiful events and phenomena confirming traditional media-mantra “Only bad news is good news”. Nothing characterises the perversion of our value system more drastically than this sentence. A fatal development, cynical poison for progress. Information becomes a commodity. Oriented towards journalistic profit. Quotes, circulation and clicks are more important than truth. Violence, sex and extreme minority issues tend to dominate the news cycleone Scandalous topics dominate the news cycle, one after the other. Just to mention a few highlights: The atrocities of the Islamic State in 2015; climate change in 2019; the Corona virus and Black-Lives-Matter movement in 2020 and so on. There was hardly any attention for other urgent global problems affecting many people.
- Using the same schemes and dividing the world into good and evil. Ignoring main concerns, the media tend to raise bizarre minority issues.
Ideally, most editors would love to run a major story on such a topic, reflecting all of their world views, prejudices and priorities. Orchid issues are reported too often because it serves the stereotype buttons of the editors, even though it does not have much relevance to the citizens and ignores their main concerns.
- Tea bag journalism: an endless loop of the same news agency messages. Beautifully formulated, but often trivially superficial. Besides reports about distant disasters.
- Another trend is framing of reality as a moral call for what is good and true. Relativizing truth as political martial art: Attitude dominates. Differentiation dismissed as trivialisation. Reality is reduced by parts that do not fit the attitude, and instead the parts that do fit the attitude are over-emphasised. For many journalists, objectivity, balance and plurality are no longer regarded as professional ethics, but as a betrayal of the good cause. They see themselves as protagonists of “the truth”. They overemphasise protagonists of their own convictions and vilify or ignore all others. Too much arrogance, vanity and self-love resonate in them. It is agitprop instead of fact-based, enlightened background information.
What is “true”?
Should a single journalist, with very limited knowledge and without a specialist’s viewpoint on the subject, make decisions from a frog’s perspective and present manipulated? Will journalists not then become part of (party-) politics? Propagandists, instead of journalists? Journalism understood as framed partial information as the first stage of disinformation and fake news? And a monopolist news source resembling a party newspaper like the “Pravda” (Russian for truth) in the USSR? Doesn’t this amount to the end of journalism and credibility ultimately poisoning our democracy? In other words, this kind of agitprop-journalism is counterproductive and not goal-oriented.
Overall, freedom of information is under strong attack from various sources revealing widespread impotence of the media.
This type of silo journalism, which is often practised today, is outdated and is damaging to the profession. Why? Because it is shallow, mellow and poisonously polarised. Boring, because it is too often repetitive. Silo journalism is superficial and convenient, because it hardly requires any research. Instead, what is needed is independent and analytic thinking. It seems too ideologically poisoned by prejudices and moralising instead of enlightening, not very goal-oriented or submissively adapted as announcement journalism without bite. Not truth-loving, but manipulative, because only the confirmation of pre-punched opinions from narrow ideological thought prisons. Forgetful, because really important issues are given far too little attention.
This is extremely dangerous for our democracies. Because facts and unbiased information are the basis for sound political deliberation and decision-making. Manipulation is the beginning of an opinion dictatorship. This poisonous aberration undermines the credibility of the media. It perpetuates silo thinking among people and generates hatred. It prevents comprehensive information of the citizens which is necessary for every democracy and makes a broad dialogue among different opinions impossible. Without dialogue there can be no democracy, it is as simple as that. Journalists have an important social responsibility. They should not be misused as propaganda tools but must play their non-partisan and critical role towards everyone. There can be no vibrant democracy without good, fair journalism.
We need more journalistic high calibre like Seymour Hersh of the weekly magazine The New Yorker. Journalists with fire, zeal, passion, commitment to objective information and a persistent focus on core issues with no fear. We all need to revitalise good and independent quality journalism for a better future. Value-oriented journalism based on truth, objectivity and factual accuracy being the most important assets. Journalism avoiding tendentious reporting in black and white and giving more space to grey tones and facts. Journalism that does not take itself too seriously considers itself more of a service provider instead of a preacher. Journalism needs to be more relaxed and pluralistic, more curious and open. In other words, it ought to be sustainable, credible and in line with democracy. A core task for publishers and editors-in-chief remains training of young journalists making them familiar with democratic editorial principles for freedom of opinion and opinion formation.
A side effect of the digital media revolution is the dramatic decline of daily newspapers. First of all, there is a lack of advertising revenue. Everything has become digital and is dominated by five global giants. News is frequently poi- soned with fake news and characterized by opinion silos and aggressiveness: Very few American digital titans dominate the selection of information. Facebook with 2.7 bil- lion active users per month, YouTube (2 billion users in total), Instagram (1 billion active users per month) and Twitter (330 million per month). In addition, the over- powering search engine Google with 7 billion search queries per day. Like a vacuum cleaner, they suck up 90 per- cent of advertising revenue pushing the other media to the sidelines. They act as gatekeepers controlling the process of democratic opinion formation through access.
Millions of poisonous fake news posts are disseminated by Facebook or Twitter. Thousands of aggressive posts are spread by professional news factories in Russia and China aiming at political manipulation.
Others work against fake news, but too often they overs- hoot the mark. They self-proclaimed cyber policemen trans- form into a new truth police, suppressing other opinions only because they disagree. The worldwide web has split up into thousands of opinion containers and fan groups poisoning de- bates and vilifying dissenting opinions. Where can one still read balanced reviews? Dissenters are attacked with the digi- tal mallet. Every truth and fact is questioned, ridiculed or blo- cked. Until no one knows whether Barack Obama was born in America or perhaps in Kenya. People believe they are part of a new religion and fight the deniers. Dialogue and truth are destroyed by this digital hydrochloric acid. And then there are professional manipulators, who, for a few million dollars, influence election campaigns and thus destabilise democracies.
Digital providers such as Google, Facebook or Twitter have a journalistic ethic. Anyone earning a lot of money, based on advertising or transactions with the inputs and data of users, also bears a special responsibility for the content.
Dangers of a digital ‚Truth Ministry‘
We need clarity and truth in social media and active advocacy against blatant intolerance. This is where this dilemma arises: On the one hand, we need to curb extreme hate and violent propaganda on the Internet. On the other hand, we should avoid a “digital truth police” for everything, because there is rarely an objective truth. Mostly, shades of gray dominate instead of black or white. We already know this from science. Otherwise, the big digital corporations will set up a gigantic “truth ministry” like in the novel “1984” by George Orwell. A nightmare. The Internet censors would ban unpopular political opinions from their frog perspective and, on the other hand, protect their own ideas. But if we censor expressions of opinion that we dislike, we are interfering with a fundamental right that is just as worthy of protection as truth itself. In the end, Twitter, Facebook or Google would destroy open and critical dialogue – the oxygen of every vibrant de- mocratic society – and thus democracy itself, although they want to protect it.
How can we solve this digital dilemma in a meaningful and pragmatic way?
1. Blocking requires a narrow focus to protect democratic discussions
Twitter states in its rules, “you may not engage in the targe- ted harassment of someone or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice. We prohibit behavior that encourages others to harass or target specific individuals or groups with abusive behavior.”
This blocking criterion of “abusive behavior by harassing other persons” – used by Twitter and similarly by Facebook ̆– is far too broad and vague.
Although Twitter is right to include “threats of physical violence”, this harassing-prohibition is too imprecise and almost arbitrary.
The intention is to promote “a healthy dialogue with different opinions,” but in practice its leads to excessive blocking, which restricts freedom of expression and democratic discussions too much.
What can be done?
Simply delete the criterion for blocking “harassment” or “of- fensive content” altogether, and focus on “threats of violence, racist or religious vilification” much more narrowly.
Articles in which massive racism or violence or other serious violations against individuals are propagated should be corrected first. With several articles they should be fenced in by education and thus neutralized. This is more effective. No immediate blocking, but first clarification and dialogue, because the truth is stronger. It also embarrasses the author. Block after 48 hours or in case of repetition.
The corporations are not willing to tolerate ‘false reports’ or ‘fake news’. This is laudable, but here, too, more moderation is advised. After all, the analysis of what is false must not be placed in the hands of a few anonymous and often inexpe- rienced people. That is presumptuous, can be abused too eas- ily and prevents a controversial dialogue as the mother earth of democratic will formation.
Whether an opinion statement is right or wrong is none of Facebook’s business. Because what is true or not often depends on the viewpoint of the observer’s cultural background or his language formation. The truth is usually not black or white but gray. The digital truth-checkers don’t know as much as the top experts in social media. Assessments can change as well.
In any case, digital media should stop fake news cam- paigns by state actors like Russia or China.
2. Truth requires clarity
Digital services should publish a comprehensive list of examples of what is prohibited as publication. So far, everything is too vague and almost arbitrarily formulated. In case of ambi- guity, the user should be able to enter a statement into a data- base that provides answers in seconds with the use of AI.
3. Facebook and other social media companies often block for slurs on the web that are unwarranted and triggered by one-sided political activists
The digital truth guardians are sometimes counterproductive and therefore dangerous for our democracy. The assessment comes too often from inadequate analysis and bias of auditors that no one properly monitors. They are initiated by subcontractors of the group, who in turn are activated by ideologically preconceived denouncers through their small-minded glasses.
Thus, the tables are turned on blocking other opinions and internet censorship. This unintentionally poisons the free exchange of opinions and thus our democracies.
Facebook and Twitter need to stop and expel the detractors in their organization who stand out by complaining too much and manipulating the truth by blocking unauthorized content more than ten times.
Even worse, Facebook itself becomes a big tool in the manipulation of the truth. For example, criticism of the corona management in Wuhan (WIV) is shut down via the WHO press office as a partner of Facebook’s Corona Team, manipulated by Beijing, so Facebook allows itself to become an accomplice to Chinese state propaganda and kills the voices of truth globally.
4. If you have a complaint, you can’t reach anyone on Facebook
Reasons are not provided for blocking, it’s a black hole. This is irresponsible and inconsiderate and does not preserve the free exchange of opinions, the humus of democracy. Until now, people have been practically deprived of their rights in the case of blockades. You can’t send an individual e-mail or talk to someone in charge. Everything is anonymous and automated in a way that cannot be traced – an absurdity.
For this purpose, a Digital Complaints Office must be set up, everybody can contact via e-mail. Facebook is moving in the right direction by establishing an Independent Advisory Board. The complaints body should make a decision within 12- 24 hours. This must include an individual justification in each case and not the usual useless pre-formulated standard answer from the computer. After that, there should also be a second route to an International Digital Arbitration Board, which would make a quick decision in a week on the basis of detailed case studies.
The states must legally force the large providers to respond immediately and properly.
5. Promote pluralism of opinion – share advertising revenues more fairly
The large digital corporations should massively promote good digital journalism by replacing advertising on different small news sites.
So far, they are almost completely sucking away advertising revenues (Google in 2019 alone $134 billion), depriving independent journalism of the oxygen to survive despite good user numbers. They are strangulating it. This is damaging freedom of expression.
Although smaller news providers have sufficient users, they proportionately receive no advertising on their portals. They are too small for the advertising industry and are not booked.
Google and Facebook could, for example, automatically distribute three percent of the advertising booked with them to smaller good content providers (such as local newspapers) as an advertising pool, let them earn money and thus massively strengthen plurality on the internet. Due to a new law, Facebook and Google in Australia have to pay a fairly negotiated share for the use and linking of media content since 2021.
These five proposals cost the digital oligarchs a lot of money. That is the main reason why meaningful regulation has been avoided so far. In view of the billions in profits and the importance of information for democracy, these expenditures are justified and necessary.
- Journalistic ethics call for truthful reporting and comment. Critical and balanced reporting should take all arguments into account. Journalists‘ stories are first generated in their mind. No fear, no blinkers or deeply engrained censorship in the heads of journalists, but instead more courage. Research the concerns of groups attracting less media attention, not just minority issues, more consciously. Journalists should specialize in different fields enabling them to research and report more substantively on important issues.
- We need a voluntary “Code of Tolerance for Journalists and Media” for every editorial office. A departure from violent and sensationalist journalism towards explanatory conflict journalism. More reports about positive events and development as necessary signals of hope.
- In editorial guidelines, journalists commit themselves to balanced reporting without ideological blinkers, critical scrutiny and impartial reporting. Furthermore, denigration of specific groups must be avoided. The editorial offices publish these guidelines, review them on the basis of cases and complaints every three months in a conference and invite readers or viewers to do the same.
- Large digital providers such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube must stem the flood of fake news and extreme hate propaganda and promote good journalism on the net, even if it costs money. We need four new rules, as described above.