I had been meaning for sometime to write something in support of journalists and how their professionalism and vigilance is our best defence against the madness that has recently erupted called 'fake news'.
The most excellent David Speers has saved me the trouble.
Please read this excerpt from a speech he gave at the 2017 Press Freedom Australia dinner. It was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday April 29.
The danger of equating legitimate journalism with deliberate 'fake news'
Political reporting in the era of "fake news" seems to be the issue dominating media industry discussion around the world. But I've got a slightly different take in the Australian context as to what sort of threat it poses.
A good starting point is trying to work out what fake news actually is. Everyone seems to have a theory. So let's begin with a bit of a pop quiz.
"Pope Francis shocks world; endorses Donald Trump for President."
Well, plainly yes, this is fake news. Same goes for "Wikileaks confirms: Hillary sold weapons to ISIS".
Here's the thing though: I haven't seen much evidence of fake news like this here in Australia. I don't see this as a great threat to our industry. Maybe it's because those Macedonian fraudsters haven't really bothered to generate fake news stories about Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. The two of them seem to be generating enough real news to keep up the clicks.
But that's not to say I don't think the term "fake news" is an issue. It is. And let me explain why, by returning to this question of what is fake news. What about this headline from just a couple of weeks ago: "US carrier group heading toward Korean Peninsula."
That was according to what the US Defence Secretary and the White House spokesman said at the time. We all reported the carrier group was heading to the Korean Peninsula. It is now, but at the time of those statements it was actually heading in the other direction.
Governments good and bad get stuff wrong all the time, either through cock-up or conspiracy. I wouldn't put it in the category of fake news though. It's just politicians lying or misleading or getting their facts wrong, as they've so often done.
What's more of a problem to me, is how politicians themselves have latched onto the "fake news" label when trying to dismiss a story they don't like. Donald Trump does this more than anyone. But let's look at this in the Australian context.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called "fake news" on a story from The Australian's Dennis Shanahan about a possible reshuffle if George Brandis and Marise Payne were given diplomatic postings. Resources Minister Matt Canavan cried "fake news" about a story from the ABC's Stephen Long about the Indian company Adani which is behind the proposed Carmichael Coal Mine, and is apparently facing multiple financial crime and corruption investigations. And, finally, Treasurer Scott Morrison called a story by Fairfax's James Massola about MPs working to bring marriage equality policy to a head "fake news".
Now I'm sure they all think they're right in the zeitgeist using this "fake news" term. But here's a tip for them: these stories aren't fake news and it's dangerous to suggest they are.
There is absolutely no justification to link entirely legitimate stories from reputable journalists to the crap from fraudsters in Macedonia and other peddlers of material designed to deliberately mislead and undermine how people are informed.
So what can we do about it? We should call it out, even if it means us journalists defending one of our competitors. We can't let trashing journalism become a go-to response for those politicians who can't mount a better defence.
The bigger question is what we can do to restore trust in the media. Particularly in my context, trust in political journalism. Let me be clear, I don't have a magic bullet answer to this.
As many have noted over the years, audiences are fragmenting and retreating into bubbles or echo chambers on the left and right. You can listen to, watch and read an entirely right-wing perspective or left-wing perspective on the world. And many do. They are attracted to stories and commentary they agree with.
The business model for most media outlets is also shifting to accommodate this trend. It's not hard to understand why. Commercial media outlets live in a commercial world. People want informed opinion and they want commentary. There is no disputing that.
But there is also, I believe, a vital role for journalists who try as hard as they damn well can to be straight down the middle and hold both sides to account. To ask tough questions of those in every political party, the big ones and the little ones, to uncover uncomfortable truths and yes, to tell audiences what they might not like to hear or necessarily agree with.
Journalists need to be journalists, not players. Not Twitter warriors.
I know plenty of people have said this since the Trump victory and Brexit, but it's true: journalists should get out and talk to a wider group of voters than those you usually mix with. Don't just rely on polls and talkback radio to "get a feel" for the mood.
I've picked up more insight into what Australians really think over dinner in an RSL club or at a camp ground with the kids than I would in a week talking to the political spin doctors in Canberra. Now I appreciate there's little time or money in most media jobs these days to wander around chatting with "real Australians". The news cycle is relentless. But as individual journalists and as an industry, we need to maintain that connection with the communities we're representing.
David Speers is political editor at Sky News. This is an excerpt from a speech he gave on Friday night at the 2017 Press Freedom Australia dinner in Sydney.