CIMA Issues New Report on How Media Industry is Addressing Loss of Public Trust

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Nick Benequista
Senior Director of Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA)

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) has released a new publication which examines various ways in which the media industry is attempting to address the problem of loss of public trust and ensure that high-quality, independent journalism, instead of misinformation, can still attract public attention.

Titled “Digital Trust Initiatives: Seeking to Reward Journalistic Ethics Online” and written by Dr. Eleonora Mazzoli, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the 32-page report analyzes how digital trust initiatives aim to empower audiences, improve journalistic practices, and drive traffic and revenues to high-quality news.

The report is published against the background of an online environment that is increasingly polluted with false information and where trust in news has steadily eroded over the years, with the news industry also facing a financial crisis fueled by a loss of advertising revenue to clickbait and viral misinformation.

According to CIMA, digital trust initiatives, which are online standards and journalistic indicators that aim to identify trustworthy news outlets and content, is one possible solution that the media industry is exploring to restore public trust and improve the financial viability of independent journalism even as news dissemination is increasingly mediated by digital platforms.

Dr. Mazzoli noted in the report that “social media platforms’ propensity to reward the sharing of engaging content without regard to whether or not it is factual has created a digital environment rife with misleading and false information”, adding that “As users chase virality, misinformation gets amplified on these platforms and fact-checkers cannot keep up. By the time this content can be fact-checked, it will have already gotten its maximum engagement”

According to her, although online misinformation and disinformation are polluting public discourse in countries around the world and posing a fundamental challenge to democratic politics and social stability, any effort to combat false information and propaganda must also strike a balance with the right to freedom of expression.

She said:  “This balancing act can be especially delicate in countries where governments use the threat of false information as a pretense to exercise greater control over the information space and attack independent, critical journalism.”

She concludes the report by observing that “digital trust initiatives strive to address complex problems and have multiple goals: from empowering users, to improving journalistic practices, to driving audiences and revenues to trusted news sources—and they cannot achieve such goals alone. Bolstering trustworthy news outlets and the content they produce in the digital information ecosystem is no easy undertaking.”