In 2016 media learned the hard way that journalism is in danger of being overwhelmed by rogue politics and a communications revolution that accelerates the spread of lies, misinformation and dubious claims. According to many observers two major stories – Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – signal a moment of peril for the press, and media around the world are deeply alarmed.
The free circulation of malicious lies, the ineffectiveness of fact-checking, the resilience of populist propaganda, racism and sexism and the emergence of the so-called post-truth era appear to challenge a fundamental cornerstone of ethical journalism – that facts matter for democracy and that people want to be well-informed when called upon to make potentially life-changing decisions. In the last months of 2016 media executives and leading journalists, policy-makers and media academics have been scratching their heads to explain what has gone wrong. Some have rushed to blame technology and the bottom-line priorities of internet and social media giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter for the crisis. Others point to the media’s own failures – a deeply-flawed and politicised press and broadcast system stuck in a metropolitan bubble, itself part of the Establishment elite, and unable to properly connect with the frustration and anger of people and communities.