My ‘Final Thoughts’ this week centers on the stories about the phenomenon of news that is marginally true and its implications. The time of reporting that is fast enslaving the local press and making a mockery of it.
News that is only marginally real has lurked online and in tabloids for years, but never before has it played such a prominent role in the mainstream publications. Narrowly deﬁ ned, “marginally correct news” means a partly true story with slightly twisted facts or exaggerated negativity with an intention to deceive, often geared toward pushing a certain agenda and celebrating certain individuals.
Since the rise of President Hage Geingob to power, fake news has become a daily phenomenon in this country. The unprecedented biasness in the way local journalists are covering stories is more vivid than ever before and there is no denying the role that fake news is playing in the anti-establishment, anger and disillusionment of the people with the government. Marginally correct news and the proliferation of raw opinion that passes for news, has become the order of the day even in most respected and renown newspapers. It is a well-known fact that every newspaper, news room or news house has an agenda and there is no denying that this has reached its highest in recent times.
Some daily and weekly newspaper that used to pride themselves of their unbiasness in the past are now on the forefront of creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, and causing a kind of fun-house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything, including real news. What is supposed to be a watchdog is turning into agenda machinery serving sordid agendas and only targeting the President and his administration for what they now call news.
They do not only give voice to detractors of our progress, they celebrate and parade as heroes by crowing them with comments in their newspapers. The rise of powerful and scathing indictment of the many forces trying to undermine the authority of the current administration has been aided by newspapers that exaggerate stories and blow out headlines to catch the reader’s eye and as a result move units.
That might have all began in the life and times of the newsroom but it has sure gone past that notion into agenda pushing strategies. The rise of anti-establishment sentiment feigned as intellectualism is not only due to the pervasiveness of the internet, but to other technologies such as the explosion of agenda serving newsrooms and social media options. We can all concede that journalists do make mistakes, but I stand to argue that the key point is the ability of the so called well-informed editors to challenge these mistakes and lead them to solutions.
Now you might want to ask me. How can we avoid the spreading of these marginally correct stories? Do these stories really have that big of an impact on public discourse and the perception of government? Does the unprecedented biased way that newspapers are covering and reporting stories have an impact on the general perception of the country and its president? In a democratic system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying.
When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they tend to imbibe on these marginally correct ones because they are usually juicy and interesting, leading to unusual and unrealistic demands for accountability and disrespect for authority. It is the spreading of agenda serving news that brings about personal attacks by members of the public to those in authority over them.
The marginally correct or exaggerated news articles go viral, while more truthful articles from traditionally unbiased newspapers are passed as “fake news” those who see them as hostile to their agenda. Those who promote conspiracy theories and propaganda live for fake or marginally correct news. The proliferation of hyper-partisan sentiment is ﬂ ooded on local social network, but marginally correct news is slowly but surely ﬁ nding its place in the mainstream media, leaving some people across the country asking how a thousands and thousands in this small nation could be marching to such a suspect drumbeat.
But while those who are well informed with current and political affairs in the country might not buy into it, agents who promote conspiracy and propaganda embrace it, and in most times even give it to their friends in the media and use it to gain followers mostly the one who are unable to think for themselves. Why else do you think when newspapers want a negative comments about government or the President, these are the guys they give a call.
When they comment, they are hardly objective because the journalists beseechingly ask them leading questions, asked in such a way that shows them what exactly they want them to answer. The larger problem or extreme the story is, the more insidious. This is no doubt pushing up the political temperature, increasing polarization and is turning the agents of conspiracy and propaganda into undeserving heroes. No longer burdened with wrestling with the possibility that the news might be wrong, people pro and anti-establishment have become more entrenched in their political positions.
Newspapers give them interviews so we can all see how they feel more empowered, more attached to their own side and less inclined to listen to the other. In so doing these newspapers are promoting polarization which might feel like fun, like cheering a goal for the home team, but very dangerous. With more news platforms available than ever before, there is an alarming number of people, especially young people in this country, who tend to be credulous and form beliefs based on the latest thing they’ve read. As much as that is worrisome, I can put it to you that it is not the wider problem.
The wider problem is marginally correct and exaggerated news that has the effect of getting people not to believe real things, that’s why it is safe to argue right now that these media houses know exactly what they are doing, who they are aiding and who they disadvantage. For an average reader out there, there is no way for them to know what is objectively true, so as a result they will stick to what they are being fed and abandon that urge to look for facts because nobody knows what’s really true anyway.
But the issue has become a political battering ram, with those pro-establishment publications accusing those anti of trafﬁ cking in disinformation meant to confuse, and the anti and mainstream press accusing the pros of tarring them as a way to try to censor and bully them. This is how in the mist of it all, the deﬁ nition of marginally correct news has blurred. Political news nowadays depends on who’s telling it, what would be one group’s medicine is poison to the other.
And the dailies are right on the forefront of it, they are a balm for the soul in a anti-establishment world whose narrative of the President and his administration, is nothing short of aiming to diminish him and all that he is trying to accomplish. The biasness has left most of us craving for that intense and factual news devoid of agendas. For an everyday Namibian the way political news in newspapers is treated nowadays is like picking through a basket of fruits looking the ripest one.
We are no longer looking for stories that raise logical and important questions, but rather the juiciest of them. I’m deeply nostalgic for the news of old, when unbiased journalists delivered it. The reputation of the press to me has been tarnished and we as people are left to navigate the fractured landscape on our own. You go on the shelves of an outlet what you see are newspaper headlines that promise more than what the story delivers.
It’s almost like looking at a menu at Dillish and her partner’s Bolster restaurant. When you see the menu, you go like that sounds delicious, it sounds great, and then it’s this teeny weeny thing you maybe get three bites of. Truth is marginally correct news from anti-establishment and these dailies that pretend to be impartial publications has been more conspicuous and biased than from the pro, but both sides indulge. As much as I try to avoid much of political news in newspapers especially when they are quoting people who they already know what their views will be, I can say that I truly understand what people imbibe on this news especially in divided and polarized times that we are right now.
For many people it is impossible to tell whether the newspaper with an explosive front page is just lobbing a bomb, or if the journalists really believe it themselves. We have people who are a little naïve, who don’t follow the news and believe it. I mean, people do buy that so-called ‘Observing’ newspaper whose most content of late is a result of a revenge factor, getting back at government and the President because of the out casting of its owners from the presidential friendship. It’s all corny.