Fake news, invented ‘facts’ and how the law can fight them
With the exponential growth in the means of disseminating news and information, the media has a fundamental role in reflecting major issues of concern to society, and contributing to the decision-making process.
The ability of the media — whether traditional newspapers, broadcasting or the internet — to influence politics, both local and international, is well known and clear. Its impact has not only affected relations between countries, but has spread to off-limits areas of international law, such as sovereignty and independence.
The downside of this power enjoyed by the news industry is the emergence of media disinformation, which is often aimed at obstructing access to the truth in a way that serves the interests of one party against another; as we have seen over the past couple of weeks, it creates its own “facts,” fuels strife and threatens national peace.
Electronic incitement is one way in which the media tries to influence a state and its people. It is tantamount to attacking the security of a state and distorting the motives of its leadership, in contravention of the UN Charter, which calls for mutual respect among countries.
Another means of disinformation is to publish selective leaks from a confidential current investigation. Such leaks are a clear violation of the legal dictum that the media should not be involved in any case while it is under investigation or litigation. Not only is this a breach of privacy, it also prejudices the presumption of innocence and may lead to obstruction of justice.
All of this calls into question the credibility of some media. It is only natural for people to turn to the media for the latest news and developments, but there is little point if even professional media spokesmen cannot be trusted. So what can be done to limit media disinformation and combat the damage it causes?
In light of the media’s international scope, it is not possible for one country alone to fight disinformation. Rather, it is necessary to introduce new rules with greater penalties for cybercrime at an international level, through judicial and legal coordination and cooperation among the countries of the world, using groups set up for the purpose through institutions such as the UN and Interpol. These groups must be fully impartial and independent of political affairs, in support of peace and in the fight against terrorism.
The ongoing media campaign against the Kingdom may grow. Nevertheless, the Saudi people remain confident in their leadership, their aspirations and their development plans, regardless of who and what is behind these attacks and attempts to mislead.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif