Critical Thinking, Commitment to Truth and Verification - Key to Combating Fake News


As part of “Local News Matters Week”, PRII was delighted to join with NUJ South West to hold a discussion on The Truth in the News? The role of quality journalism in the era of ‘fake news’, on Saturday last.

Hosted by Shannon Heritage in the lovely surrounds of King John’s Castle, Limerick City, PRII members, who travelled from Cork and Galway as well as Limerick, rubbed shoulders with their journalistic colleagues from the NUJ South West Branch and a number of locally based politicians.

They heard from a panel made up of RTE Education Correspondent Emma O’Kelly, Clare FM’s Fiona McGarry and PRII President Cian Connaughton, MPRII and ably chaired by Nandi O’Sullivan, MPRII, Head of Communications with Shannon Group plc.

The observation was made early on that as propaganda has existed for a long time fake news is not new. The question as to why there is such an appetite for fake news was also tackled. Factors such as an erosion of trust in media and less newsroom resources were identified, along with wider societal issues such as insecurity and fear. The question, does the PR industry take advantage of the stretched resources in newsrooms, was also posed.

The best way to counteract the rise of fake news is by staying true to the core tenets of quality journalism and the constant need to stress fact checking and an appreciation of sources. Good quality journalism provides a filter that publics can trust.

Cian Connaughton MPRII, similarly stressed the PR’s commitment to professionalism. Honesty is a paramount value for PRII members, he said. Noting that members voluntarily subscribe to three codes of ethics: the European Code of Professional Practice (Code of Lisbon); the International Code of Ethics (Code of Athens); and the PRII Code of Practice for Public Affairs & Lobbying, thereby signing themselves up to an extra level of scrutiny. This in turn gives clients and journalists extra confidence that PRII Members act in accordance with the public interest, show honesty and integrity, and that they will not use information that is false or misleading.

There was universal agreement around the importance of media literacy with call for it to be a part of the English curriculum in schools. The need to enable people better challenge and question what they read or see in the media was strongly emphasised by Kathy Halloran, RTE’s Mid-West Correspondent, in the audience. The need to be critical of what is presented in the media was a theme repeated by the panel and by many in the audience. 

The rise of digital influencers and associated vanity metrics was also seen as a contributing factor in the rise of fake news. This is something PRII has taken a strong line upon, as was reiterated on Saturday, in relation to transparency the declaration of when payment has been received for endorsing a product or service. By ensuring influencers, who hold an increasing amount of persuading power with consumers, are honest about payments they’ve received for endorsements, it will be easier for consumers to discern where the truth really is. The days of hard and soft news are over, one contributor added - it is now any news. A topic that was later returned to when discussion was opened to the floor and Senator Kieran O'Donnell asked if social media is driving mainstream media?

While technology may have facilitated fake news, it was also noted that it can be used creatively to produce quality worthwhile content that is relevant to audiences, such as younger people for example who tend to consume less and less mainstream media.

There was also a lively discussion on media ownership and how this impacts on what is covered by media.

The PRII is very grateful to Shannon Heritage for hosting the event and to the NUJ South West Branch for the opportunity to partner with them. Special thanks are also due Colm Ward and Colman Garrihy MPRII, for helping organise the event as well as Emma O’Kelly, Fiona McGarry, Cian Connaughton and Nandi O’Sullivan for stimulating such a lively debate as part of the panel.

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