All posts by GlobalSam

#FakeNews

#FakeNews. These days you can hardly open a newspaper without some kind of article or mention of it. The recent US elections, with the internet as a catalyst have popularised the term enormously. While known before the elections as simple propaganda or lies, the recent US-elections have opened the doors for a new market segment: FakeNews and with it, the very concept of #fakeNews.

Can you remember a time before these elections, that we the consumers of news would accuse the mainstream media of being fake news? Biased? Yes! Partisan? Absolutely! Incomplete? You bet! But Fake? That’s a pretty new. Moreover, it has now become an insult and a catchphrase, a tool to take credibility away from one source, and load it into another.

It has only been a week now that the White House has launched it very own news service. The final words of the previously at CNN employed journalists couldn’t be more obvious “This is the real news” contrary to those other news outlets that report, you said it, #FakeNews.

#FakeHistory

Fake news is not a recent development. Made up stories to discredit opponents, to sell newspapers or for any other reason,… it has been around for a very long time. Even Vlad Tepez, the medieval Wallachian Voivode had to deal with fake news that Saxon dukes spread about him.

As with journalism itself, you can almost endlessly talk about fake news. What are the reasons? What’s the result? Which role did it play in history? What about fake news and history books? How much ‘fake news’ are we learning today? Accidental fake news? Soft fake news? And on and on it goes. Already early on, people in power realised that knowledge is power and deciding what knowledge is could arguably be even more powerful. Convince two enemies that one is going to attack the other based on fabricated and fake information and… profit. Or, in the case of Gustav III of Sweden, who launched a fake story about a Russian attack to allow a defensive war to take place, you lose the war.

Whether the story is created for political, religious, hateful, chauvinistic or simply for monetary reasons, be critical of any story that you read, and whenever you make a decision based on the news that you read, verify it, make sure that what you read is sound, sourced and repeated elsewhere. This goes for elections, ralies, referendums, political decisions, support and so on.

 

#CriticalDistrust

When talking about distrust in the mainstream media we have emphasized the extremity of this distrust: conspiracy theories. Examples abound such as disbelieving that the moon landing ever happened, that our government and media is actively hiding aliens, or the fluoride problem. But that’s not all coming out of Pandora’s Box.

Pandora’s Spectrum

As often is the case however, this is not simply a matter of black and white. Pandora’s Box doesn’t only contain strange conspiracy theories, but also more subtle assumptions. There is a whole spectrum of potential misinformation coming out of it. From disagreeing with the referee to assuming free masons rule the world.

This can be about any other partisan issue. Politics, foreign policy, nationalism, religion to even the smallest of disputes, such as those between cyclists and cars. Often, people will more readily believe the information supporting their side of the aisle.

If the mainstream media doesn’t give information to support your view or side, evidence to the contrary is just a search away. How you perform your search very much decides if you’re going to keep that box closed. Specifically looking for information contradicting the mainstream media and in favour of your own view is going at that box with a crowbar (e.g. referee during this match was bribed). You want confirmed of what you already believe is true, so called #ConfirmationBias.

Critical Distrust

On the other hand, if you want second or third opinions to verify what the mainstream media wrote, you might just put an extra lock on that box. (e.g. in-depth analysis of the match), and lets call this #CriticalDistrust.

It’s not easy to stomach facts, figures, stats in opposition of what you so inherently feel is the truth. However, science wouldn’t have gotten where it is now by ignoring what they see, and just blindly assume that their hypothesis is correct.

And remember, whatever side you’re on, it can only grow by acknowledging the facts, and moving forward. If your team lost, and no critical and credible media (mainstream or otherwise) supports your idea (either that he was unfair or bribed) perhaps you might need to support the idea that your team needs another coach. Stubbornly believing that it couldn’t have been your team’s fault is not going to make your team any better.

That is the difference between opening Pandora’s Box, or being critically distrustful.

#AboutJournalism

In the video, my explanation as to why we started this channel was an oversimplification. I mean, true enough, we love journalism and the correlation it has with (international) politics, society and the way we perceive our global order is fascinating.

Asking questions

However, the reasons for starting this channel are a bit more intricate. At every corner, we notice that the debate always seem to revolve around anecdotes. This media is fake news, that media didn’t tell the whole story, such media misrepresented the facts. It goes on and on and on but never touching upon the essence of certain journalistic contradictions. These are enormously important, and we don’t understand why this is hardly covered.

There are attempts made by certain media outlets, but far too few and not in a consistent manner. Shepard Smith had an excellent monologue on context, and John Oliver had a segment on the contradictions with the business model of today’s newspapers. However, what about media’s relation to democracy? Or the issue of partisan reporting?

Being informed is not just about knowing crowd sizes, but also understanding how the media reports this crowd size. How does this news outlet present the article? Is the author obviously choosing sides? Does he attempt to stay neutral? What about the title? What do other outlets tell about the subject? What’s the context of this event? How does the journalist phrase the facts? What are the sources of this article? Did they ask a second opinion?

But also questions dealing with the essence of journalism itself. How can journalism survive in the 21st century? What is the influence of ads and publicity on our media? What about hypothetical objectivity? Should a journalist be partisan or always try to maintain neutrality? What about the fact that a few large enterprises control most of today’s mainstream media? how independent is journalism of today?

And finding answers

Answering these questions, or at least, being aware of them, as you read and consume the news might very well be as important as the news itself. One of our first videos will deal with the subject of “Distrust in the News,” something there is quite a bit off lately. We have read multiple articles concluding that ‘yes, distrust is increasing’ and analysing that ‘the internet is a catalyst,’ but there is hardly an article out there dealing with the consequence on our perception of news due to this distrust (if you are curious, watch make sure to watch next week).

Journalism is something we have thought long and hard about, and with reason. We are working on a project related to journalism, and it is from this fertile ground of constant research, brainstorming, and debate that this channel came to be.

We hope to see you around,

The Coffeeand.news team

 

 

Country FMF: Greece

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Greece

Today in “Frequently Missed Facts”, we are going to know more about the little details that make Greece. So tell us all about the little forgotten facts that make Greece what Greece is today in the comment section.


Frequently Missed Facts

What we ask of you in this section is to use our comment section to tell us one contextualised and sourced fact about the country in question. The aim is to have people understand what is happening, or what happened. Media can gloss over data that is crucial to understand a certain conflict or event.

Some points

  • Write about one contextualising fact on a certain topic of the country in question
  • Source it with at least three sources
  • Choose verifiable topics/facts
  • The topic can be anything about the country: a historical event to a current day crisis
  • Preferably narrow, concrete data that you feel has been left out of the media
  • The fact itself should fit into one phrase.
  • Try to avoid patriotic, controversial and hard to verify facts (for example: if I were to add either Romania or Hungary, try not to say: “Hungarians colonised Transylvania/Romanians were the offspring off the Dacians” as it is almost impossible to verify conclusively either off the two)
  • You can reply to your own comment with a context around the fact. This can be as short or as long as you want it to be (but refrain from writing essays, and also, make sure it is sourced)

 

Opinion Pieces: The importance of context

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Today, an opinion piece appeared in a Belgian newspaper. It was a reaction to an earlier made comment by the head of an anti-racist committee in Belgium who said that women have the right to wear the Burqa. The following opinion piece compares the Burqa with the David star given by Nazi’s to identify Jews.

Some background: the Burqa is an Afghan version of all covering clothing where even the eyes are hidden. Not to be confused with the Niqab (a separate piece of clothing for the facial area where the eyes can be seen) or the much more common Hijab (the headscarf either worn tightly to hide the hair, or loosely). The authors of this article uses all these three irregularly.

Why?

With that out of the way, lets follow this writer’s opinion piece. First off, the writer proclaims his in-depth knowledge on the reasons why a Burqa is worn in Belgium.

One of the reasons is that it is legally enforced in Iran, Parkistan and Saudi Arabia. Women in these three countries are required to wear the Hijab (or the Burqa). The authors also include countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, since society forces women to wear body-covering clothing. And this is an unfortunate situation. We agree that women should be free to wear what they want to wear. It is a shame however that the authors did not explain what this has to do with Belgium. I assume they insinuate that these countries force their ideas on our population.

And the ideas we are talking about are that women are inferior to men, and thus have to wear the body covering Burqa. However, we are not entirely satisfied with that explanation.

In a number of countries where the majority adheres to the Islam, socialist governments came to power that promoted a strict separation of church and state. In some of those, the state (partially) banned head-scarves. Indonesia is an example where the government used to outlaw the headscarf. Ironically, the right to wear a headscarf became a symbol of feminism and freedom. And just like all these Indonesian women, there are millions of women choosing some type of veil for their own personal reasons. And these might be completely unrelated to how men feel about themselves.

Stats

The authors claim that women are increasingly forced to wear the Burqa. It kept my mind occupied as I was driving through northern Schaarbeek. This is Belgium’s most densely Muslim populated region. In between all these macho dads, shouldering pink Barbie back-bags, holding their daughters and son by the hands as they go to school. I was wondering where the Burqa’s were. I had seen them before years ago, I knew they existed. But all I saw were these young dads with pink bags. They didn’t seem to realise that according to our western conception of Islam, they should be covering their daughters, not letting them skip ahead in the most boringly western girly outfit you could imagine.

These authors however, claim that women are increasingly forced to wear the Burqa. They do not cite numbers, statistics or sources. Their article seems to be solely based on their remarkable observation skills. It seems a given that these fathers, mothers, brothers and other family members have no interest in the individual choices of these young women. Seeing the staggering amount of pink bags, I refute that claim by my own personal observations.

The why, part II

The core-argument of the article is based on the assumption that Muslim women wear the Burqa because men feel superior. Without it, they can’t make their David-Star argument (as we’ll see later). But how do two white western men know precisely the complex and often very personal reasons for women to wear the Burqa, Niqab or Hijab ( (be it feminism, personal choices, religion, sense of community, or perhaps, indeed, pressure from society)? isn’t it just a tad arrogant to make that assumption? They readily accept that nuns wear body covering clothes and lock themselves up in a monastery, without resorting to machismo.

Now here comes the comparison with the Nazy David Star for Jews. According to the authors – just like the David Star – the Burqa emphasizes the inferiority of the women. It is to block for an unclean person (the first I ever hear of this), and the Burqa removes the individuality of the person from society. In short: The Burqa is a symbol that emphasises the superiority of men over women. In our Belgian society; we should not allow this symbol to exist.

However, we simply can’t say what drives Muslim women to wear the Burqa. There is a mountain of study material. They try to find the answer through the interplay between Islam, Arabic Nationalism, colonialism and Western influence. But finally, it is up to the women themselves.

small caveat: There are women who are forced by their society, family, fathers, husbands or brothers to wear the Burqa (read: Burqa, not Hijab) against their wishes and desires. It hardly matters whether this is because they feel superior, pious or traditional. If this goes against the wishes of the woman in question, then it becomes an issue, period.

Education

Whatever piece of cloth anyone wishes to wear should not matter to us. Laws dictating what is decent or what is excessively decent are not of the 21st century (with the possible exception of running around naked, and even that…). What we should do however, is make sure that every citizen of our society knows his or her equal place. That he or she can explore her/his own person, talents, wishes, drives, ambitions, dreams, aspirations, and so on.

How do you get these young girls in touch with all that? Education. It teacher these young girls and boys a spectrum of colours. They can – in equality – choose a colour that fits them best. We should make sure that their spectrum of colours does not exclusively contain Burqa Black. forbidding the Burqa – whether they wear is with the same conviction as a nun in a nunnery, or because they fear their husbands will only completely remove them from society, solving nothing.

A David Star for our own society

This analogy is also rather dangerous when applying it on our own society. If the Burqa is a David Star for the Muslim community, then the glass ceiling is a David Star for ours. We don’t allow women to play a representative role in businesses or politics. We hide them from any kind of decision-making power or influence on our society and pay them less because they are not male. They do not have the same freedom, chances and options as their male counterparts.

Moreover – and we realise this is a often repeated argument – our own society also has some questionable unwritten rules for our women’s wardrobe. It always needs to be sexier, hotter, fancier than before. And you might argue that we don’t have laws forcing women to wear such clothes. But then you’re wrong: it is illegal in Belgium to completely cover yourself (i.e. to wear the Burqa).

Concluding Remarks

To assume for millions of women why they are wearing the Burqa is boundlessly arrogant, misogynistic, ill-advised, completely missing the point, creating a problem and blind for where the problem might be and a potential solution.

We do not deny that there are women who wear the Burqa (or any kind of covering clothing) against their will. But assuming that this is true for every women wearing the Burqa misrepresents the facts, and doesn’t solve anything for those who are forced.

When discussing a problem, context is vital. Trying to repair a broken bike in the context of rice farmers in 12th century Japan won’t help your bike. Neither is trying to help oppressed women having to wear the Burqa against their will in the context of male superiority and comparing it to the David Star in Nazi Germany just to get people to read your terrible opinion piece.

Journalism or Thou shalt not make use of prefabricated conclusions

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News. Magazines and journals each have their own approach or angle. There is the popular economic angle, or an angle that concentrates on society. The Sun, however, has a very interesting one, but before we delve into that, let’s tell the story of Priscilla.

Priscilla is a Nigerian woman. She was 43 and pregnant with quadruplets. She decided to go to a hospital in Chicago in the United States, as per instructions of her gynaecologist. He warned her against having quads in Nigeria. She had family in Chicago, so the choice was quickly made. However, at the airport in the US, she was send back because she could not proof that she had adequate financial means. On her way back to Nigeria, she had to transfer at Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom. While waiting for her transfer flight, she began to have contractions. An ambulance brought her to Chelsea Hospital where she had four babies. Two of those four babies died soon after birth, and doctors had to treat the other two at the neonatal intensive care.

Depending on the market or readership, there are multiple interesting angles: “Pregnant woman send back to Nigeria due to lack of proof to pay the bills” or “woman pregnant with quadruplets loses two.” Context can also be quite nice, such as “seeking quality medical treatment outside borders” or “right to quality medical care.” You could also simply state that with all that is happening in the world today, it simply is not newsworthy.

The Sun

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The Sun choose a very surprising Angle: “£500K HEALTH TOURIST Quads mom jets in for NHS healthcare”

this title practically deserves a book. But lets start with the obvious: It is simply wrong. Priscilla did not ‘jet in’ for NHS healthcare (recently being compared to a humanitarian crisis). She jetted in for USA healthcare. Also, she is not a 500-pound health tourist, but a USA Health Tourist. Her choice of Chicago was because she had family there who could support her. All this as per advice of her Nigerian gynaecologist. Without wanting it to happen, she went into labour while on her way back to Nigeria.

The Sun doesn’t prioritise the fact that the mother lost two of her children, the terrible stress of giving birth in an unknown city, or the question what is medical tourism. No, what is important for the sun is that she has a 500’000 pound bill that she cannot pay. This huge bill now rests on the shoulders of British taxpayers. The Sun continues to contextualise the article saying ‘2,167 mums not entitled to care had babies on NHS wards in 2015/16’.The article itself mentions later that British healthcare suppliers must provide emergency medical care. So they are entitled, against the wishes of The Sun apparently.

The immorality of The Sun is shocking. Prioritising the fact that this Nigerian woman would costs the taxpayer 500’000 pounds assumes that this is not just a problem according to the Sun, but also the key problem. Something that they – I assume –would wish to see solved: Those who are not entitled to make use of the NHS, should take care for themselves. The Sun also assumes that the people reading share this immoral point of view.

predetermined conclusion

However, the moral qualms I have with this article are not the reason I brought it up. Its predetermined conclusion is the main issue. Any somewhat heavily politicized journalism opens itself to criticism, but this politicized text comes with a preassembled conclusion: Immigrants abuse British healthcare. No matter what the context might be, or the facts on the ground, or the simple question of humanity, the conclusion would stay the same.

That is not to say that there shouldn’t be room to debate the issue. Should passengers take a health insurance before flying towards a certain country? Perhaps a small fee on top of their ticket to cover such costs? Nevertheless, there are a million and one ways to open that debate in a moral and humane way that doesn’t come with foregone conclusions, and straight-out lies. What happened was that a Nigerian woman had quadruplets against her wishes in the United Kingdom. The conclusion could be about the unforeseen costs of transfer passengers needing medical care.

Perhaps we ought to send the Sun a list of how many British abuse the Belgian healthcare system. A system that is heavily subsidised by the Belgian government, and Belgian taxpayer’s money, because their own NHS doesn’t seem to quite meet first world standards. Perhaps the Nigerian woman ought to complain on how she had no choice but to give birth to children in the United Kingdom?

Anyway, to journalists: first get your facts then your conclusions and… always keep your story moral and humane, because we really do need it in these times.

Ps; I understand that analysing The Sun for good journalism is counter intuitive. Still, the most extreme examples are often pretty entertaining.

 

Journalism or Thou shalt not use a definition in vain

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Thesis writing. Usually heralded as the bane for all master students. It is hard to get it exactly right. Either the scope is too broad, too small, too meaningless, too hard or another ‘too’. If you got that right, don’t forget your methodology, theory, definitions and so on. If you managed to get this far, start prepping to remove all the vague and ambiguous parts.

It was one of the most enlightening experience in my academic career. I saw the the beauty of clear, sober and definite information and reasoning. Moreover, it brought structure and meaning to every word I wrote, contrary to the random vague mass of letters that my essays used to be.

It’s also an important class for those who will make writing their professional career. Journalists-to-be are taught to write faultless. I feel that it is also important to teach them how to use definitions and theories.

My master thesis serves as a good example. Journalists condemned Vietnam with badly chosen adjectives and definitions after its intervention in Cambodia in 1979. Consequently, I got inspired to do a PhD on the media’s (mis)representation of facts during the cold war.

The ‘us against them’ attitude was pretty prevalent during the Cold War. Readers generally accepted the misrepresentation of facts in favour of being able to hate on communists/capitalists (encircle what is applicable). I hope we can say that we ask more of our media today. Being blatantly biased and one-sided will have people doubt the informative and objective value of those reports. This does not mean it doesn’t happen in more subtle ways. One such method is the apparent innocent choice of words.

Populism

Let’s take the follow quote from a Time Magazine article by Joanna Kakissis on the 11th of June 2012. She is writing about the far-left Greek political party Syriza, and its political leader Alexis Tsipras.

“The leader of a party that includes a range of leftists (such as Trotskyites and Socialists), he became the left-of-center standard bearer for antibailout and antiausterity populism”

The article starts to explain and situate the terms ‘antibailout’ and ‘antiausterity’, but does not give the same treatment to the term “populism”.

Readers might not think twice about the word ‘populism’. They nod, assume whatever follows is explaining why Tsipras measures are populist and accept it as a given. The article never explains why these measures are populist, but still, our reader has registered Tsipras to be a populist.

Populism is a manner of communicating themselves as protecting the interests of the population against the malpractices of the elite in power. It is not exactly a compliment. Therefore, when Joanna Kakisses took the liberty to describe Syriza’s left wing anti-bailout and anti-austerity measures as populism, she should situate and explain it.

However, contrary to explaining her choice of words, she quotes their leader.

“If we continue taking this austerity medicine and especially at a higher dose, that’s when Greece is going to be forced out of the euro. And when Greece leaves, the whole euro zone will start wobbling”

This response is not exactly enlightening. It doesn’t explain why Syriza is populist. It repeats that this party is against the policy of austerity and that according to Tsipras, this policy might have dire consequences for both Greece and the Euro-zone. Is Syriza a populist party? Perhaps, but it is a definition that has nothing to do with the information given in the article.

This journalist is not the only one using this term to describe political movements. Often I see terms and definitions popping up with no base to support them. I like to call this #LazyJournalism.

Terrorism

Another example and more controversial is the term “terrorist” or “terrorism”. According to dictionary.com, one can define it as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” This means that we can label any organisation or actor using violence or a threat to commit violence a terrorist.

But we don’t, In fact, journalists don’t seem to agree when an organisation ought to be labelled as terrorist. There is nothing controversial about calling Al-Qaeda or ISIS this. It becomes delicate when having to describe the YPG, Hezbollah, The Black Panthers, and so on. You can call the PKK a left wing organisation fighting for independence, or calling it a terrorist organisation seeking the division of Turkey. Depending on the background of the magazine, journalists define and colour the article.

However, the core business of the journalist should be ‘to inform’. When calling an organisation either freedom fighters or terrorists, it deserves an explanation why the journalists has chosen the words he or she did. Perhaps they are freedom fighters with a just cause but applying terrorism as a tactic. It is then up to the journalist to describe this injustice, and the terroristic measures they apply to achieve their goal. It is then up to us – the readers – to make up our minds.

The moral of the story is that each word in an article counts. Calling a political movement populist, opportunistic, realistic or organisations terrorists, militants, or freedom fighters has an impact. Our opinion as readers is guided by the words chosen by the author. And those words need to be justified. Why is the PKK a terroristic organisation? What do they do, what do they fight for, what is their ideology? Who supports them? Did they kill innocent civilians? Is terror their modus operandi?

Just like I had to justify in my thesis each term that I applied, so do journalists have to explain why they apply the definitions they use.