Spectre of fake news - Francis Zammit Dimech
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Spectre of fake news - Francis Zammit Dimech

The Commission on Truth, Trust and Technology at the London School of Economics has recently proposed the creation of an Independent Platform Agency to combat fake news.

The spectre of fake news is one that is widespread more than ever throughout Europe and beyond. Books are being written about the subject. One which I would particularly recommend is that by Evan Davis: Post-Truth – Why We Have Reached Peak Bulls**t and What We Can Do About It.

The author explains that mendacity can take various forms ranging from outright lies to being economical with the truth – where the aim of the communicator would remain one and the same: that of deceiving his audience. Davis observes that even “those who avoid the direct lie by careful deception can never argue that the resulting deceit is accidental or incidental”. 

When these methods are employed by politicians in a position of ultimate power, the impact on society is most worrisome at the very least and ultimately represents a serious threat to democracy that is meant to have as one of its foundations the right of the public to be told the truth about all that matters. 

As member of the Culture Committee which also covers media issues within the European Parliament, I regularly follow what is happening at the European level with regard to fake news and seek to promote safeguards through which the right of each and every one of us to know the truth is restored.

Setting up fact checkers or independent agencies as has been proposed in the UK is one method that can be employed. Another parallel approach is to include more emphasis in our educational system about the development of our critical faculties to be able to distinguish between what is fake and what is the truth.

Last Sunday, I shared with persons attending the closing session of the Nationalist Party general council my thoughts about what would happen in our own country had a truly independent fact-checker agency be set up to combat fake news.

It is 17 Black that is being investigated and not to whom 17 Black was meant to transfer money

It would have a daunting task not least to try to figure out how our own government, in particular our Prime Minister, is spreading fake news as a form of political communication.

The agency would look up reports of when the Prime Minister promised us an American university through which the south of Malta would be swamped by hundreds (or was it thousands?) of academics and students spreading learning and a new form of economic growth. 

Where are they? 

The agency would then question the veracity of reports about the benefits that our country was meant to experience through the government’s handing over of our hospitals to Vitals. Even if the agency is provided with massive research re-sources, it would not be able to quite work out just who is behind Vitals, and even more seriously it will be unable to discover one hospital, one clinic, one pharmacy or even one veterinary service that is run by Vitals anywhere in the world.

It would also find out that Vitals after not delivering on any of its commitments despite being given millions of euros by the government, was allowed to transfer its rights to a new entity that was described by our Health Minister as the “real thing” (an admission that the former guys must have been surreal) and sure enough the government now has to negotiate further with the new kids on the block. 

I believe it is being described as a clarifying of clauses exercise.

Not surprisingly the agency would then have to focus on the 17 Black saga. Even worse than the scandal, which that saga represents, is the scandal that the Prime Minister does not want to do anything about it. 

He promised that he will act once the results of a magisterial inquiry involving his chief of staff and his favourite minister are out.

Pity that he does not also remind us that the government is doing all that it can to prevent that inquiry from setting off.

The plot thickens when we are told (through a press leak that has the government itself as its source) that there is another inquiry under way.  The inquiry is about 17 Black. The agency will wonder if it has finally struck some bit of good or consoling news. Nothing of the sort.

You see it is 17 Black that is being investigated and not to whom 17 Black was meant to transfer money. Never mind that 17 Black is owned by one of the persons who is behind the infamous new power station project.

That is equal to telling us that a major theft has taken place and the police are busy investigating the loot but not whoever may be the thief. So silly of us and independent journalists not to understand the difference.

We all deserve a period of reflection and talking on our own to reach the required level of enlightenment and understanding. And there is far more…

Our agency will be kept very busy.

It is our duty to have the courage, resilience as well as pride of having stood up for the truth, of not falling into the conditioning and quagmire that the government wants to induce us into through continuous doses of fake news.

Francis Zammit Dimech is a Nationalist Party MEP.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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