Jimmy Wales: Fake news “a quantum leap we should be very concerned about”


Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales speaking at Westminster Media Forum, April 2018. Credit: Daniel Bruce

“The advertising-only business model has been incredibly destructive for journalism,” said Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales at a Westminster Media Forum event on Thursday 26 April 2018 in London that looked at “fake news”.

“We need to resolve the incentives so that it makes sense and is financially sustainable to do good news,” Wales added.

Wales cited examples of false news stories that had been published on the Mail Online, such as an article featuring a projection of a perfect horizon in Beijing, erected as a way to compensate for the pollution, which proved fake, and a story claiming the Pope supported Donald Trump. He said the Daily Mail of 20 years ago was different. While not what he would choose to read, he thinks there is a place in the media landscape for tabloids, but one running fake news is “a quantum leap we should be very concerned about”.

Suggesting alternatives to advertising-only models, Wales said the Guardian’s donation request box (which he admitted he had consulted on) was an excellent example of how a media organisation can earn money without compromising standards. Meanwhile, a total paywall was very beneficial for some media, in particular financial media, with those readers valuing inside knowledge on the markets, though it would not suit all (the Guardian’s Snowden files, for example, were information he said he would want everyone to be able to access at the same time).

Wales’s concerns about the advertising-only, clickbait-style media models were echoed by others throughout the conference. Drawing an impressive panel of industry experts across media, law and tech, they all united in the view that while fake news meant a myriad of things to many different people, and was not something new, it was nevertheless problematic. Mark Borkowski, founder and head of Borkowski PR, spoke of the 19th-century great moon hoax and how “everything is different and everything is the same” before adding: “The speed at which we expect to get information, without proper fact-checking, is a plague.”

Nic Newman from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism proposed different ways for media to gain more trust, of which “slowing down” was one. Richard Sambrook, former director of global news at the BBC and now director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University, said the rise in the number of opinion pieces over evidenced-based journalism was because they were cheaper to commission.

Better education about what constitutes good quality, reliable media was another solution proposed.  

“Audiences need better education and sensitivity around algorithms,” said Kathryn Geels, from Digital Catapult.

Katie Lloyd, who is development director at the BBC’s School Report and who runs workshops around the country educating school children into news literacy, said there was a sense of urgency and confusion when it came to the topic and that teachers feel like it really needs to be taught.

“Young people are on the one hand savvy and on the other not so much and need extra help,” said Lloyd, adding that of those children she had interacted with, most knew what fake news was in principle, but not how to spot it.

“When we started talking to teachers they said they didn’t have the tools and the skills to teach it,” she added, tapping into a point raised by head of home news and deputy head of newsgathering at Sky, Sarah Whitehead, who said media education was just as important for older people as it was for the young, as the world of online was not the domain of only one group.  

Lloyd also explained that diversity was essential when it came to who was delivering news as people were more likely to trust news from those they could relate to. This was in response to an audience member saying they had spoken to school children who expressed that they respected news on Vice over the BBC. Lloyd agreed that it was essential for news organisations to have a wide range of people in terms of age and background. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1524822984082-ad9d065c-d104-5″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

EDL “terrorise” Legoland staff over Muslim family day out

(Image: LEGOLAND Windsor Resort)

(Image: LEGOLAND Windsor Resort)

A day out for Muslim families at the childrens’ theme park Legoland in Windsor was cancelled last week after multiple threats were received from far-right groups. The Daily Mail was labelled “hateful” by Muslim organisations for its coverage of the episode.

According to press reports members from the English Defence League and a splinter group known as Casuals United had both threatened to protest at the day-out, which was organised by the Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF), and had sent threatening letters to MRDF offices as well as staff at Legoland.

A spokesperson for MRDF told Index: “They terrorised staff at Legoland, staff at MRDF and aimed to terrorise children and families on the day of the event.” He added: “Several articles in the national press helped fuel further hatred and resentment.”

The event, which was due to go ahead on 9 March, was cancelled after Legoland and MRDF consulted with the local police. “The owners of Legoland made the decision to cancel the event in consultation with the MRDF”, a police spokesperson told Index

The police are known to be investigating several malicious messages sent by members of the EDL and Casuals United in the run-up to the cancellation. “Thames Valley Police can confirm it is investigating reports of offences committed under the Malicious Communications Act (1988),” said the spokesperson. They confirmed that the investigation related to several social media messages sent in the days leading up to the cancellation.

It is understood from sources at Legoland that the Anti-Fascist League, who had planned a counter-demonstration against the EDL and Casuals United, was also considered a threat to the peaceful day out.

Fierce criticism has been levelled at trustee and chairman of the MRDF, Haitham al-Haddad, an Islamist preacher, over allegations of being anti-Semitic, homophobic and in favour of female genital mutilation. Al-Haddad describes himself as a Muslim community leader and television presenter, of Palestinian origin. He sits on the boards of advisors for several Islamic organisations in the United Kingdom, including the Islamic Sharia Council. He is the chair and operations advisor, and a trustee, for the Muslim Research and Development Foundation. Al-Haddad, who is outspoken in his criticism of British foreign policy, has been banned from speaking at a number of British universities because of his alleged views.

The MRDF, based in East London, undertakes research and publishing programmes, corporate retreats and development programmes, organises conferences, seminars and lecture tours and analysis of news, information and media material.

Grassroots far-right group the English Defence League had planned to hold protests outside the theme park if the day went ahead. In a press release on their website, they described al-Hatham as a “known hate preacher,” who “thinks Jews and gays should be killed, Israel destroyed, unbelievers converted or killed, women beaten into house slaves…and Osama Bin Laden should be held in high esteem.”

A spokesperson from Legoland told Index: “This was about lots of families having a day out. The park is closed from November to March and we open for private events. This one had no alcohol and halal food available, alongside non-halal. Other than that it was a normal event.” The spokesperson also added: “Anyone was able to buy these tickets – it was not a Muslim-only day.”

Legoland said 9000 tickets were available but it was unclear how many had been sold at the time the event was cancelled. Their spokesperson also confirmed that MRDF had paid a fee to hire the park exclusively. MRDF was responsible for selling tickets to their own members.

In a separate statement released on their website, Legoland made clear that they believed the far-right groups should be blamed for the event cancellation: “Sadly it is our belief that deliberate misinformation fuelled by a small group with a clear agenda was designed expressly to achieve this outcome.” The statement added: “We are appalled at what has occurred, and at the fact that the real losers in this are the many families and children who were looking forward to an enjoyable day out at LEGOLAND.”

The Daily Mail has also been slammed in an open letter to their editor, Paul Dacre, over “hateful” coverage of the events leading up to the cancellation.

In a piece written by columnist Richard Littlejohn on Tuesday 18 February, titled “Jolly jihadi boys’ outing to Legoland”, Muslim groups say the paper “deployed hateful Muslim stereotypes” and “used slurs commonly found in racist and far-right websites.”

The article referenced a coach that would be “packed with explosives” and that might “blow up” after stopping in Parliament Square. At Legoland, guests would be “reminded that music and dancing are punishable by death”. Later, girls would be expected “to report to the Kingdom of the Pharaohs for full FGM inspection” while boys would “report to the Al-Aqsa recruiting tent outside the Land of the Vikings for onward transportation to Syria.”

The letter of complaint was published by the Muslim Council of Britain, and co-signed by more than twenty five other Muslim organisations.

This article was posted on March 5, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

On speaking ill of the dead

Earlier this week, I made an appearance on the BBC News Channel, offering my expert opinion (no laughing) on the Ed Miliband/Daily Mail case.

When asked about the now-notorious “Man Who Hated Britain” feature about Ed Milband’s Marxist father Ralph, I suggested that the Mail had every right to run the article, but probably shouldn’t have. By which I mean I wouldn’t have run that particular piece myself.

But I would be genuinely interested in a good article looking at Ralph Miliband’s politics, and his influence on his son’s politics, even if it was written by an attack dog. As long as it was an accurate attack dog. Part of the oddness of Geoffrey Levy’s original article was just how silly it was.

One of the curious aspects of the fallout has been some Conservatives pointing out the hypocrisy of those on the left who were outraged by the Mail’s Miliband moment but seemingly saw nothing wrong with celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher.

The problem with this is that exactly the same people who were mortally offended by the Thatcher protests were suggesting that Miliband supporters should just accept the Mail mauling.

If you want an argument to work, it needs to apply universally, as all decent Kantians know.

I recall when the late Christopher Hitchens died, the Guardian, amid gushing tributes, ran a very silly piece by Frances Stonor Saunders, attacking him for all the wrong reasons. I knew Hitchens very vaguely, and liked him and his prose, so I was, for a while offended. But then one had to remember the glee with which Hitchens had attacked the fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell after he died. And one had to think, “fair enough”.

The phrase “you can’t libel the dead” is tossed around quite lightly, but it is actually a very important principle. Turkish writers and activists frequently struggle with laws criminalising criticism of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. In Russia, a new chauvinism is making it increasingly difficult for groups such as Memorial to talk about Stalin’s crimes.

And then there is North Korea, where a man who has been dead since 1994 is still called the Great Leader and Eternal President.

Ancestor worship is simple: an entire culture gazing awestruck into the grave. Moribund. The vigorous arguments that civilisation requires will involve a great deal of criticism of the past and the characters that made it.

Daily Mail backs the BBC Trust

In a move that may have left a few people slightly confused, the Daily Mail has published an editorial in support of the BBC.

The Mail’s traditional antipathy to the BBC notwithstanding (“its monstrous bureaucracy, its unthinking profligacy with licence fees, its manifold editorial misjudgements or its  all-pervading soft-Left bias”), the paper is critical of suggestions that the corporation’s oversight body, the BBC Trust, should have its functions transferred to communications regulator OfCom and the National Audit Office. The Trust has faced criticism as excessive remuneration and severance packages have led to accusations of waste and cronyism.

So why on Earth would the Daily Mail defend this?

For very obvious reasons actually. The Leveson report of 2012 suggested that, should a self-regulatory body established by the press fail to meet the criteria set out by the Lord Justice, OfCom could step in as a “backstop” regulator.

If as the Mail’s editorial suggests in regard to BBC budgeting, “It is simply not safe to entrust such power to a quango answerable to MPs, with their vanity, partisan agendas and propensity to bear grudges.”, then surely the self same proprietors of all that vanity, partisanship and grudgery should not be allowed even the slightest control over the free press.

So what’s the Mail’s solution for the BBC?

Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of man to devise a genuinely independent regulator, with the authority to ensure value for money and true impartiality.

We’re not necessarily just talking about the BBC here, are we?

Meanwhile last week David Cameron, resplendent in new reading glasses, told the Commons Liaison Committee he feared an “impasse” in progress on press regulation. While voicing support for a cross-party Royal Charter regulatory proposal rather than the alternative suggested by the majority of the newspapers, Cameron suggested that the leaders of the other main parties, as well as the press, may need to give some leeway in negotiations:

“To be clear I am committed to the cross-party charter. We all signed it, we agreed it. We should progress it but it would be good if we could find some way for everyone to see that it would be better if you ended up with a cross-party charter that the press seek recognition with. But it is a cross-party issue so this is something all party leaders have to address.”

Professor Brian Cathcart of Hacked Off, the group campaigning for the imposition of the Royal Charter, claimed in an article for Huffington Post that the idea of an “impasse” had been planted in the prime minister’s head by newspaper editors, declaring “There is no impasse; there is a process.”

But in which direction we are to proceed may still be up for grabs.