Investigation 3: Wow! Did that really happen?: Trust and the media

Given its potential to influence and shape public opinion, the media and journalists have a responsibility to report events accurately, and to clearly make the distinction between fact-based reporting and opinion writing. This is usually apparent in any established daily newspaper, where the news is separate from the opinion and editorial pages. Presenting the news in this way enables readers to draw their own conclusions about an issue or event, a practice which is vital in a democracy. But what happens if the media get it wrong, in ways that might mislead or inflame public debate and opinion? What responsibilities should the media have to ensure that their reporting is correct?

Analysis

During the Israeli action against Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon in 2006, it came to light that reputable news agencies had published photographs of the fighting that had distorted the truth. Investigate the issue below and consider what the consequences might be in a democracy if there was no responsibility for reporting truthfully in the media.

View the CNN news video link Media Matters America website, then divide into groups, and have each group take responsibility for reading one of the articles and answering the questions below. The groups will then share their information and views in a Fish Bowl activity.

Issue: Art imitating life

Step 1 – View the video

Media Matters America (CNN News Video)

View the CNN news video on this site, which features an interview with Charles Johnson, the American Internet Blogger who uncovered the doctoring of the Reuters photograph which claimed to show the aftermath of an Israeli bombing raid in Lebanon.

Step 2 – Divide the articles

CNN’s Nguyen failed to challenge claims that Qana photos were staged (Media Matters America)

Making war look worse (The Guardian)

Not the hole truth (Herald Sun)

Trusting photos (BBC News)

Respond to the following questions after reading your chosen article, and then use your responses in the Fish Bowl activity.

  • Write a description of the event or issue, taking care to describe what occurred.
  • How was the inaccuracy or falsehood uncovered?
  • Was the falsehood deliberate or accidental, and would this matter in your view?
  • What were the perpetrators’ intentions in attempting to mislead their readers?
  • What are the ramifications if this kind of reporting is left undetected?
  • Consider if this event undermines your faith in the media, and how you can ensure that you have a balanced ‘media diet’.

Activity

Complete a Cause and Consequence chart showing the consequences of what might happen in democracies if the media cannot be trusted.

Reporting and presenting your findings

Now that you have considered the issue of truth in media reporting, attempt one of the following, individually or in groups, and present it to the class for discussion and evaluation.

  • Create a set of ethics for journalists to ensure that their reporting is truthful
  • Create a set of criteria for judging the veracity of reporting for consumers of media
  • Devise a set of rules for reporting events in the school paper, newsletter or radio.
  • Create a television advertisement encouraging ethical news reporting
  • Stage a television production that satirises inaccurate media reporting

 

Introduction | Introductory activity | The Investigations | Investigation 1 | Investigation 2 | Investigation 3 | Investigation 4 | Investigation 4 Issue 1 | Investigation 4 Issue 2