Fact-checking has become more difficult in a world in which politicians lie so brazenly. One of the Leave campaign’s whoppers was a billboard screaming “Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU” despite negotiations barely crawling along and no expert, whether in Turkey or the EU, expecting membership in the foreseeable future.
The duty of journalists in this post-truth environment is the same as it has always been – to separate lies from facts, to inform readers as honestly as possible and to aim at the closest approximation of the truth. Inventing or doctoring stories to t the political lines of media outlets, as often happens with EU coverage, is an abdication of basic journalist ethics. It also blurs the line between public relations and journalism to the extent that the two become indistinguishable.
If your primary role as a reporter is persuading readers or viewers to back a certain position, whether keeping migrants out of the UK or the UK out of the EU or both, you are no longer doing journalism; you are doing communication.
Journalists in this position should ask themselves “am I enlightening my audience or obfuscating the truth, allowing them to make a free choice or pumping propaganda down their throats, and working in the interests of the readers and viewers who ultimately pay my wages or for owners whose primary loyalty is to shareholders?”
So how can journalists improve reporting of the EU to make it fairer, more honest and more accurate?
First, understand how it works. If you don’t know the difference between the European Council, Council of Europe and Council of the EU, it’s time to start studying.
Second, don’t be lazy. If one MEP opines about an issue, that does not mean it is the position of the European Parliament. And if the Commission drafts a proposal, that doesn’t mean the EU has decided anything.
Third, blurring reporting and commentary rarely enlightens readers and viewers. So avoid pejorative descriptions of EU officials as “barmy Brussels bureaucrats” and shrill headlines that are better suited to political pamphlets than newspaper articles.
Finally, don’t lie or feel the need to repeat the lies of lying politicians.
A journalist’s job is to hold power to account, not flatter those who wield it. It is to question untruths rather than parade them as facts. And it is to report as honestly as humanly possible rather than indulge in political grandstanding or public relations.