Hardly a day passes without a fabricated news report occupying mainstream and social media, followed immediately by an official statement denying the story, and in turn causing much confusion.
Propaganda for political and economic gains is nothing new, but how journalism and the wider media have been used recently for this aim is something noteworthy.
A good example of one of the most serious examples of fabricated news was a claim attributed to the Saudi Ministry of Interior, saying the ministry had urged Saudi citizens in Turkey to sell their investments in the country, warning those wishing to visit Turkey to wait or go elsewhere.
The Saudi Embassy in Ankara immediately denied the reports, saying the statement was false and had not been issued. But despite the denial, this news was retweeted by numerous people without investigating or fact-checking.
In the social-media era, everybody shares or retweets whatever they wish. There are even websites specializing in publishing and spreading this fabricated news. One may not prevent individuals from distorting the facts. But it is worrisome to see journalists, whose actual duty it is to inform the public with accurate information, to spread such news without even bothering to check its accuracy through either government or diplomatic sources. Nor do they bother to make a simple search on the Internet regarding the apparent news story.
Amid the worst diplomatic crisis to hit the Gulf region in decades, it is understandable that fabricated news has arisen that aims to hurt Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries. Such stories can play into the hands of other groups or countries. However, the foremost task of journalists is not to rely on such reports, but to verify the information published by both international and local media, to clear up the carelessly published or even fabricated reports.
Upholding proper media ethics can go some way toward countering the rise of fabricated reports.
As I have stated before, amid the tense atmosphere in the region, Turkey and Saudi Arabia — two heavyweights in the Middle East — are trying to avoid any kind of move that could harm their relations.
Given that every single day we see reports about Saudi foreign policy pushing Turkey and Qatar toward Iran, it becomes more important than ever to cope with the phenomenon of misinformation in social media, in order to serve the interests of journalism rather than any other group or country.
Since the arrival of social media, there has not been a single journalist that does not enjoy the advantages created by the medium. Indeed, social media’s place in journalism is undeniable and its role in spreading news cannot be ignored. However, social media should be a tool in the hands of journalists, not the opposite. They should be the one using media tools in order to defend the truth, and present accurate information and opinion from diverse circles.
Sometimes providing accurate information might not even be enough. In order to produce reports that are clear for readers, there is a very basic rule of journalism, one that is unfortunately often lacking in today’s media. The rule is the “five Ws of journalism.” Those five Ws are: “Who? What? Where? When? Why?” Most journalists add the question “how?” to the list, too. This rule is the cornerstone of newsgathering, without a doubt.
Journalists use this guideline to make sure they get enough information to write a comprehensive report as well as enough information to make the report understandable for the audience. However, the record of today’s media in following these basic rules is not great.
Once the journalists return to the fundamental principles and ethics of their profession, get out of their comfortable seats and step away from the computer screens, the “fabricated news” phenomenon might possibly be countered, to some level at least.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly in issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz.