Loss of Trust and Disinformation
Cross-Current Media & Journalism Group Meeting #5, online, May 2021
Reflections written by Almut Hülsmeyer, member of Media and Journalism Cross-Current Professional Group
“What is the relationship between trust and the media, in the current climate of 2021?”
This is one of several questions we looked at in our Cross-Current Media & Journalism weekend, together, in May.
Here are a few of my reflections.
About 62% of people in Germany believe that the government is controlled by some big lobby groups. That is one result of a latest survey. One third thinks that corruption in the German government is a problem. The picture of a state that cannot be trusted is not any more an opinion which is expressed by people at the verge of society but in the centre. The estrangement affects besides state institutions also media and science.
The dialogue with those who lost their trust in the state and media has become very hardened because society is not arguing about opinions and interpretations any more but about the factual basis. Disinformation has an easy job because many players do not hold on criteria like research, giving evidence and consistency.
The fatal result of disinformation is that it blocks the necessary debate in society.
If the question how to stop disinformation is discussed suggestions affects often technical solutions or legislation.
There are also initiatives in Germany which try to stop disinformation by fact-checking. But they need time for their work and therefore always limp after disinformation.
The big problem is that all the technical or legislative attempts to stop disinformation do not bring back the lost trust into state institutions or media. The narratives will not change when false news are flagged, blocked or refuted.
To regain the trust of those which lost it, society has to concentrate on social aspects. Educational establishments should focus more on political education and media competence. Politicians and journalists must also agree to take part in the discussion why people lost their trust and do not believe them. Parts of society do not find their everyday life portrayed in the news coverage. Journalists should allow more room for minorities and their views. Besides that, journalism must always be open-minded and open-ended. That means to search for facts which do not support my point of view or my working assumption. Again and again I read stories where the journalist seemed to search only for facts that support his thesis.
In that way Foucault’s idea of Parrhesia seems to be important for journalism: To be obliged to truthfulness. To criticise recognised positions also when it is uncomfortable. To speak with boldness would serve the credibility of media and politics and bring back trust.
Cover photos: Visuals on Unsplash.com