The media landscape at present is consistently pushing us ‘bad news’. Be it new findings regarding the corona crisis, a stall on Brexit or charges against individuals in positions of power. However, this is not the worst our media outlets have had to offer. Barrages of fake news and misinformation are pushed on our feeds, timelines and pages daily.

The battle against misinformation is a core challenge of Shout Out UK and on November 27, ‘Breaking News? The Future of UK Journalism’, was published by the communications and digital committee to try and understand some of the problems facing the media.


Rescuing good journalism

The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications and Digital, is aimed at investigating public policy relating to the media and more general digital communications. It aims to assess what action needs to be taken by hearing evidence from individuals, academics, businesses, think-tanks and ministers. In this case, CEO of Shout Out UK, Matteo Bergamini was asked to speak about media literacy and what needs to be done to understand the media that we are exposed to.

The committee found that the most urgent area to work on was the funding of journalism itself. The rise in online consumption of news and falling sales of print journalism has created ‘an existential threat’ for good journalism. The uneven power dynamic between news outlets and tech giants such as Facebook and Google requires fixing, with the potential solution being to makes these companies pay publishers for the right to distribute stories. There were also calls by the chair, Lord Gilbert, for the expansion of apprenticeships within journalism. He argued that more of these programmes would ‘bring about an expansion of journalism, creating local jobs and opportunities for aspiring journalists’. There was also a recommendation for the BBC news website to push stories from smaller and local news organisations which has fallen prey to the success of the BBC’s online presence.

The need for Media Literacy

Within the report came the topic of media literacy, a skill which is crucial to all in attempting to understand the validity and worth of a story. Media literacy is essential in allowing consumers to hold media outlets to account for falsities within their work, and to reward them for delivering accurate and informative news. Full Fact, a fact-checking website, found that media literacy can make people ‘better equipped to understand what affects media coverage’ and also help them to, ‘ … be more confident in identifying and challenging false or misleading claims’. According to Matteo Bergamini, media literacy is: ‘how to critically understand the media we consume’ and ‘understanding misinformation, disinformation and fake-news’.

The drive for media literacy is essential in restoring faith in our democratic system, but also to bring about a more harmonious society. The spread of misinformation — such as Vote Leave’s infamous bus slogan — creates rifts and confusion within our democracy, with the electorate not always certain of what it is choosing to support or oppose. This has been aptly demonstrated by the bewildered responses immediately after the EU referendum. People were simply confused as to what they had voted for. Some believed they would wake up and be out of the EU immediately, others were not even sure what the single market was. Introducing media literacy to our schools and places of work, would allow citizens to be more informed about their choices and more empowered; effectively, making our democracy stronger.

The rise of misinformation has also arguably contributed to a steady increase in racial and religiously charged hate crimes. From anti-immigration headlines on our tabloids to complete lies regarding Muslims peddled by far-right ‘news’ websites such as Breitbart, dis- and misinformation corrupts well-meaning individuals who change their views based on a string of ultra-right propaganda. Media literacy has the power to enable people to understand and critique the origin of their news, as well as its agenda and content.

Media literacy is essential if we wish to become a more tolerant and thought-driven society, instead of one that is corrupted and baited into scepticism by lies and deceit. The fight for media literacy is essential. If anything is to restore our trust in democracy, it will be this.