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Fake News versus reality

The Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) hosted a seminar on news reporting with a focus on fake news versus reality.  The event was done virtually this morning with presentations from local and international panelists.  Opening the event was the Chief Executive Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Audrey Wallace who spoke on the challenges that fake news and yellow journalism create.

The Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) hosted a seminar on news reporting with a focus on fake news versus reality.  The event was done virtually this morning with presentations from local and international panelists.  Opening the event was the Chief Executive Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Audrey Wallace who spoke on the challenges that fake news and yellow journalism create.

Audrey Wallace, Chief Executive Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister: “The very nature of digital media facilitates it’s dominance in today’s communications. Firstly the tools to create digital media are now in the hands of billions of people via smartphones. Secondly fiber optic and satellite technology facilitate lightning speed transmission across the globe. Finally our photos, voice recordings, videos can be manipulated very easily to enhance or distort the information that we capture. To summarize digital media is everywhere it travels faster than superman and it’s editable, simply amazing. There is unfortunately a sinister side to this technology which is now being exploited to propagate lies to slander and to influence democratic elections using fake news. In Belize we know that independent journalism has played an invaluable role in protecting democracy by holding public agencies accountable with the simple act of sharing information. Now the phenomenon of fake news is infiltrating journalism everywhere thereby eroding one of the pillars of our democracy. We’re having this discussion about the potential dangers of digital media at a critical time. It’s critical for two reasons. Firstly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic our dependency on digital media has grown significantly. We now depend on it to conduct your daily work, to connect with friends and family and to stay informed with the latest updates on the pandemic. Our exposure therefore  to any of this information that is being propagated on digital media especially on social media is much greater. Secondly and quite dangerously the Belizean public has become prey to false information on social media one example is the promotion of hydroxychloroquine which is specifically not recommended by the World Health Organization for the treatment of COVID-19.  At this time when everyone is concerned about the status of the virus in Belize one piece of fake news that goes viral can create public hysteria.”

Taiwanese Ambassador Remus Li-Kuo Chen did a brief address on the organization of the session which he says was done in collaboration with the Government of Belize and the US Embassy.

Ambassador Remus Li-Kuo Chen, Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in Belize: We now enjoy the advantages of receiving a lot more information in a short time and can quickly sense the impulse from all corners of the world. Unfortunately that’s not the whole story. Disinformation and misleading content formed by hostile actors externally or domestically sometimes spread faster than facts. In many cases they even spread faster than our immediate response for clarification. For many years Taiwan has been facing the threat from it’s neighbor not only by military coercion but also by coordinated attacks of fake news targeting selective audiences or the general public to sow the seeds of discourse in our society, disrupt our ways of life and degrade our democratic process.”

US Embassy’s Charge d’ Affaires, Keith Gilges took the podium this morning speaking on why the embassy felt the urgency and need to support and sponsor such a workshop.

Keith Gilges, US Embassy’s Charge d’ Affaires:Control of news content is no longer limited to traditional media houses through daily and weekly newspapers and radio and television broadcasts. In the old days we relied on these media institutions to take raw information and turn it into news. They were our filters. We trusted them and usually we knew them. With the introduction of new digital platforms available on the internet to anyone and easily accessible through mobile handheld technology nearly every citizen has access to virtual unlimited sources of information, much of it unfiltered through the channels that we were used to. We have seen many positive impacts of this information revolution around the globe. From the sudden fall of dictatorships to the almost instantaneous rise of social movements with the potential to change their societies for the better. This is real power but as the old adage goes with great power comes great responsibility. As a global community we have accepted and embraced our new powers but we’re still working on figuring out all the responsibility part. We must learn to recognize that sites that  appear to have the elements of journalism but without its ethics. We must recognize sources that have the profile of legitimate media without its commitment to professionalism and basic standards ,  sources that intentionally and knowingly advance a false narrative for narrow and disingenuous purposes. Without the professional filter of traditional media houses the burden of assessing and validating our sources of information has fallen to us. Equally important we are no longer just consumers of that information as individuals we gain the power to produce and disseminate our own content with the potential to reach every corner of the globe; this is the democratization of information. But the dark side of this brave new world of technology is it proliferation of misinformation, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, fake stories generated by outlets masquerading as legitimate media sites lies present as the truth. The goal of these producers is to confuse to disenfranchise and to manipulate. When these activities are organized and funded by authoritarian regimes they become systemic disinformation campaigns with the potential to disrupt governments and weaken our social institutions. These sophisticated campaigns are especially insidious when they undermine our faith in the institutions of democracy

This morning’s session was part one of the initiative.  The second portion of the presentations is being done tonight starting at seven-thirty.