The importance of factchecking in journalism

Before writing on the necessity of fact checking in the mainstream media, it is relevant to state why journalism. One purpose of journalism is to inform people to help them make a conscious opinion. The journalistic task in print, online, and social media is therefore to report the events as if the readers can feel what Clifford Geertz, an anthropologist says of ‘being there’. However, the reality is not always ideal. Journalism is no exception. Any solutions? There could be many, one is fact checking.

With digital freedom, citizen journalism can flourish further. This is much encouraging. Yet, the freedom without responsibility can dilute the purity of news and its sources. The statements coming from the politicians, high level government officials, and newspaper columnists make the public opinions. When unchecked, personal opinion may pass to the public as a fact. For instance, one can argue by saying that a section of society is not immunizing their children. This does not make much sense than saying 13% of children below one year has not received the immunization as per the government schedule. Verifying the assertion against the fact makes them accountable of what they speak or write.

When someone writes anything, there is always a question of how she uses her authority to represent the subject of her choice. This, most of the times, is influenced by power dynamics between the author and the subject. Academic write up requires the author to disclose her personal position and are bound by ethical guidelines. In journalistic writing, such practices are not yet institutionalized at least in our part of the world. Can this be an excuse? Certainly not if we are to be accountable and do people centric journalism. Welcome to the world of fact checking which at least can play its part of game to improve the situation.

Advertisements

Missing Links in IEC Design…

A picture speaks more than thousand words. Ministry of Health and Population has a separate centre to design, print and disseminate health messages of different contents to improve knowledge, attitude and practice of people to promote healthy behavior. Health messages designed by National Health Education Information and Communication Center (NHEICC) helps us to understand how these messages are created with what purpose in designers’ mind. In the paragraphs that follow an attempt is made to describe how these messages contain implied messages in addition to intended message because of which we can say that these messages are not working in proper way. On the other hand, a marketing campaign by a Lebanese narghile company is observed which has designed its advertisements in such a way that although its product being harmful, they are able to deceive with the false and/or ambiguous messages.

If you had to be pregnant how many times would you have liked to be pregnant? A man with typical Nepali dress “Daura, Suruwal, Kot and Topi”, looks like pregnant, stressed and sweating with his one hand at his abdomen and another at his waist. His face shows he is a ‘middle class’ Brahman or kshetri man from hilly region. Picture also contains the message asking, “If you had to be pregnant how many times would you have liked to be pregnant?” in Nepali language. It seems to be targeted to rural population as it has used Nepali language. This poster aims to reduce family size and ultimately population growth. It also addresses the issue of pregnancy by choice not by chance. In addition, it also empathize the difficulties that women face during pregnancy and childbirth. Most importantly, the poster aims to establish the supportive role of men in women’s health.

The poster with such good intention, however, failed to recognize diverse social groups in Nepali populace. One impact of the poster could be that men from ethnic and madhesi community may not be able find them. Likewise, poor and elite masses may think this advice is not for them as it cannot be felt through picture. Similarly, Nepal being multilingual nation, the poster fails to honour other languages spoken in Nepal. Lastly, the issue is equally important to urban population which it fails to identify. All these could mean the message is only for certain group which will cause lower coverage of target audience and the overall failure of the program. On the other hand, it may suggest something which designers of the message were not aware of this or they were not intended to have. The implied messages of the picture could be larger family size, high population growth rate, role of men in women’s health, gender relation in a Nepali family where women’s have least say even over their body and the issue that directly affects them.

Quit Smoking and Live Healthy Life. A poster with two parts – the upper half showing a ragged and poor looking woman carrying a baby at her back and smoking while, the lower half showing an organized and well off looking woman carrying a pitcher. The upper half says, “Every puff of any form of tobacco is the cause of untimely death” in Nepali language and has pictures showing oral cancer, lungs cancer and heart diseases. In between both picture is written ‘therefore’ and at the lower half says, “quit smoking and be healthy” again in Nepali language. The upper half of quit smoking aims to reach rural female population, Nepal being the country with higher number of women smokers (Kyaing, n.d.). This part of the picture also suggests that smoking causes general weaknesses and also different forms of cancer. It also shows passive smoking as the women is carrying a baby at her back. Similarly, the lower half of quit smoking aims to impart a message to live a healthy life with no smoking which clearly means that if someone does not smoke or quit to smoke, he or she is going to live a healthy life.

If we see the upper part of the picture in the way the picture seems perfect. However, the picture is a sign of bias towards women in illustrating as smokers not recognizing the fact that many males are also smokers. Different forms of cancers as portrayed being the outcome of smoking are also associated with smoking but it has not yet established as a form of scientific causality. Likewise, a child could have been with a male senior but in this picture it is not. Is it always sure that a child should always be with female? In addition, the picture may suggests that smoking is prevalent only in poor women from rural areas which in fact is not true. Addiction has no boundaries. It can travels across time, place and person. So, portrayal of only rural poor looking women in such message is misleading.

Similarly, the lower half of quit smoking aims to impart a message to live a healthy life with no smoking which clearly means that if someone does not smoke or quit to smoke, he or she is going to live a healthy life. As in earlier, it again fails to recognize other aspects of living a healthy life and male population who also smoke largely. Likewise, the picture may suggests organized and good looking women do not smoke. It further implies that a woman with “Tika” in forehead and virtuous looking also does not smoke. This is not true as mentioned earlier that addiction does not know the personal status and interest.

Now comes to commercial marketing of a tobacco product which in fact is harmful but its marketing strategy helps it to feel it like a healthy product. The first one among such is Cleopatra molasses which has an attractive illustration in its package with an image of Cleopatra at top left corner as a logo with a label at its right side saying CLEOPATRA MOLASSES and a mouth watering sliced water melon at the center right side, while an image of narghile at left is quite smaller than watermelon. The point to note here is on its label just below water melon and at right to narghile which goes WATER MELON with bold and in larger font than that of Cleopatra Molasses. Moreover, it has images of other 10 fruits showing the flavour alternatives.

The most important aim of the product is to increase its sales. It is trying to do this by giving a false impression that it is like a healthy fruit product and is able to deceive population. In addition, it contains an intentionally designed false/ambiguous message which suggests this being a healthy food product. However, various studies suggest that it is as harmful as any other forms of smoking (Khalil et al, 2011).

Another commercial product of our concern is Coco Nara which is a name of a charcoal brand used to light narghile charcoal embers with bilingual (Arabic and English) description of its features like made from coconut shell and vegetables, 100% natural, an environment friendly product, tropical product adapted for Lebanese use etc.

As in Cleopatra Molasses, the aim here is again to increase the sales by telling irrelevant truths to lie in a different ways. One among such is by saying the product being 100% natural. “Natural” has a meaning that the product is organic and “100%” suggests its purity which has nothing to do with the product than to make people in darkness.

The message is so intentionally designed that it has a plenty room for ambiguity. Among many, “environment friendly” phrase is used to make the impression of an eco friendly product. These catchy taglines is making the product in acceptable category but the fact is something totally different as it may suggests this being a good product in contrary to its reality.

These examples show how health and social message fail to reach the audiences and have their intended positive impact whereas commercials though have negative intended impact are succeeding with better advertising skills. The aim of this paper is to emphasize the strengths of message in its design in order to conclude that health and social message should be designed in commercial ways to be effective and positive at a same time.

References
MEDIA/MATERIALS CLEARINGHOUSE: A leading international resource for health communication materials, http://www.m-mc.org, If you had to be pregnant how many times would you have liked to be pregnant? Searched in database with keywords: Nepal, Pregnancy, Poster and Nepali

Nepal Health Education, Information and Communication Centre, http://www.nheicc.gov.np

Nyo Nyo Kyaing, Regional Situation Analysis of Women and Tobacco in South-East Asia, World Health Organization – Regional Office for South-East Asia

Joanna Khalil, Robin L Heath, Rima T Nakkash, Rema A Afifi, 2011, The tobacco health nexus? Health messages in narghile advertisements, downloaded from tobaccocontrol.bmj.com on April 21, 2011 – Published by group.bmj.com