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Publication date:- 2016-12-30

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Is internet and constant chase of the hit counts destroying quality journalism?
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CAN you trust news online? Is the article you've just read on Facebook reliable? Do you ask yourself these questions or you just take news stories for granted? The rise of internet and social media has definitely opened up a lot of opportunities for journalism, but it has also opened a door for pseudo news websites that with misleading headlines and fake news stories, under a mask of quality media, try to lure audience to their websites with an eye to maximise hits and get more cash from advertisers.

In 2016 the rise of fake news websites has hit an all time high. Recent US elections and Brexit have only added fuel to the fire. Misleading headlines and fake news reports tend to provoke the public and have often resulted in the breakdown of social unity. According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the public is being "manipulated" by fake news and propaganda. Trying to combat that issue, she has vowed to regulate 'fake news' by passing a law that punishes those who publish fake news on social media. Is it realistic? Is yet to be proven... The law might sound good, but it comes with a huge risk. For example, it straight away opens questions like what can be regarded as "legitimate news"? Where are the guarantees that the new law won't be abused? And what will happen with freedom of speech?

In the UK, there has been no authorised watchdog / body that would moderate the need of freedom of speech and the rights of privacy and legitimate speculation. The only unaccredited regulatory body for British printed newspapers and magazines was The Press Complaints Commission (PCC). However, after the Leveson Inquiry that discovered serious breaches of ethical practice, the PCC was folded. Instead of addressing issues raised, the PCC phoenixed with a brand new identity; Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and until now continues to operate in the same manner. It turns out that there have not been ethical standards that all media have to obey, and all conduct codes are voluntary. The situation has changed with the official recognition of IMPRESS (The Independent Monitor for the Press is a Community Interest Company) in October 2016. IMPRESS is the only independent press regulator, recognised under the Royal Charter that aims to build a sense of trust between the public and the press. It allows journalists to work in a fair manner free from governmental and political influence, as well as gives the public the ability to easily hold the UK media to account in a far more open and fairer way. IMPRESS believes that having a visual kitemark in place, that is legally enforced and easily recognised, might help the public to differentiate reliable media outlets from the bogus ones.

Another major issue that needs to be mentioned is the disappearance of regulated local news outlets. The sad reality is that running a local newspaper nowadays is often not profitable. The advertisers that used to be the main income for local papers now prefer to place their adverts on Social Media or on things like Google AdWords. This lack of investment has lead to many small media groups to close down and gave a green light to unregulated blogs and chat forums taking over the reporting of local news. The rise of citizen journalism on one hand is good, but on the flip side the loss of professional journalists has lead to a massive increase in unreliable and fake reports.

The scariest part is that advertisers are the ones who fund and support local bogus news websites. Loud and scandalous headlines bring lots of hits that are so tempting to potential advertisers. Yes, in theory that sounds good, as more people see your advert, the better chances of success you have. Oddly, for local stuff it doesn't always ring true! In practice, advertising on click bate sites that provide unsubstantiated and sensational news automatically brings the area down in the eyes of potential tourists. This, in turn, often affects local businesses, even if not directly connected with tourism. In the long run it can also lead to community divisions, as well as social and economic decline.

So next time you decide to place an advert, make sure the group you are dealing with is accredited and carries the same views and ethical standards as your own business. Also think on the long term impact of not supporting your local grass roots media. Don't neglect the power of local newspapers and small PR companies that are fully regulated and are targeted at local communities. Local websites, like ours, are aimed at developing trust with our readers. We aim to help promote and make the local area more of a community. When local communities feel as one, they are happier and feel they have a voice. When you lose that small link in the chain, the mechanics of good PR management brake down. That in return means a brake down in society and the loss of financial stability for all parties.

Let's hope advertisers stop funding hoax and clicks bate news providers and instead will support the local regulated media. We truly believe it's the best way how the society can tackle the issue of fake news at present.

Start 2017 with a new start. Check if the news sites you are advertising with are fully accredited and regulated! It's more than just an advert. Get media wise!

Please do email us your views on this topic via:-

Web pages for you to use as research into this topic:-
PRP (Press Recognition Panel)
NUJ  (National Union of Journalists)
Levenson Inquiry Info
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