After 23 years with BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW), and 38 years in journalism, here our Editor Phil Parry looks at the importance for all journalists of how information from reliable sources is crucial during the pandemic.
Earlier he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and made clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC CW TV Current Affairs series he presented for 10 years, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
It cannot be over-emphasised that relying on trusted SOURCES for your news is absolutely fundamental.
This crucial truth has been highlighted for me, by it being an era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, with absurd so-called ‘information’ published on social media.
Hopefully the worst of this has passed now, with Donald Trump no longer in the White House, and strict controls being put in place by the tech giants, however it is STILL prevalent.
When I started in journalism in 1983, the mantra from my trainers was: “check, check, check”, which involved not just confirming the factual accuracy of what was being published, but that the sources could be relied upon.
If only everyone knew this.
The apparent rise of people giving ‘news’ from Twitter or Facebook (FB) is one aspect of this worrying trend, conspiracy theories, and those offering ridiculous anti-vaccination or lockdown ‘details’, are others.
US President Joe Biden recently accused FB of “killing people” by spreading misinformation about vaccines against Covid-19. He later rowed back a bit after FB pointed out it does quite a lot to stop the spread of such content and to promote legitimate vaccine.
Only this week a whistleblower gave more disturbing news about what has been happening within the social media giant.
Frances Haugen said that executives disbanded FB’s ‘Civic Integrity’ unit and relaxed measures they had imposed to control misinformation in the run-up to the US election last November.
“They basically said: ‘Oh good, we made it through the election, there wasn’t riots’”, she told the CBS show 60 Minutes. “Fast forward a couple of months we got the insurrection.”
Through social media platforms like FB, other myths have also spread.
They include the absurd notion that the virus can be cured by drinking methanol, which has led to more than 700 deaths in Iran, and that it is spread by 5G transmitters, which has convinced arsonists in the UK to carry out more than 90 attacks on phone towers.
A poll by Gallup of 28 countries on four continents found that in all of them, at least 16 per cent (and as many as 58 per cent) of people thought Covid-19 was being deliberately spread.
A clip of a film called ‘Plandemic’ claims that a shadowy elite started the outbreak for profit, and within a week of it being uploaded, had been seen eight million times, with its star, Judy Mikovits, topping Amazon’s bestseller list.
A study published in Nature found that, although pro-vaccine FB users outnumbered anti-vaccine ones, the anti-vaxxers were better at forging links with non-aligned groups like school parents’ associations, so their numbers were growing faster.
Among Americans, exposure to social media is associated with a greater likelihood of believing that the US Government created the virus or that officials exaggerate its seriousness.
The broadcasting regulator, OFCOM, censured a tiny TV station called London Live for airing part of an interview with David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who believes the pandemic is a hoax. At the time of OFCOM’s ruling six million people had viewed the full interview on YouTube, which is outside their jurisdiction.
Sadly this kind of nonsense is being aired more than ever now.
Just hours after the notorious financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell, wild and unsubstantiated theories about the death began to circulate on the internet.
Many rumours have centred on what politicians allegedly may have known about Epstein’s crimes and whether some could have wanted him dead.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest this was the case, and yet, the hashtag #EpsteinMurder trended worldwide.
The appalling recent case of the fantasist Carl Beech, is another one where wild conspiracy theories were central, and sources should have been checked. Beech had ‘told’ the authorities of a high-ranking paedophile ring in which children were murdered.
He came to public notice on the BBC’s Six O’Clock News, and was being ‘interviewed’ by a reporter, but the ‘questions’ were unbelievable. This is an extract of what Beech (who used the pseudonym ‘Nick’) was asked: “They were sexually abusing you? (Yes) And they seem to have been powerful enough to keep this hidden? (Yes) It’s amazing. There seems to have been quite an organised network to allow this to happen? (Yes)”.
The former Labour MP, and one time deputy leader of his party, Tom Watson warned about “a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10″. The same day, on ITV’s This Morning, the presenter Phillip Schofield brandished a sheet of paper in front of ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron, claiming it was a list of Tory paedophiles that he had “found on the internet”.
For 18 months between 2014 and 2016, Beech was the star witness in a high-profile police investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and murder, involving MPs, generals and senior figures in the intelligence service.
He was even helped by detectives to get a claim processed that he had previously made to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, following the ridiculous allegations he had made.
What Beech said was all a complete fabrication and he is now serving a jail term of 18 years–sentenced for 12 counts of perverting the course of justice, one of fraud, and for several child sexual offences.
Apart from checking the source, another basic tenet of journalism, which evidently the police did not apply in the Beech case, is: USE YOUR COMMON SENSE!
Obviously anyone who comes to you with a story about children being murdered, should be treated with extreme caution. Frankly this is unlikely to be true and you need evidence – yet it seems the Metropolitan Police believed Beech without this. A top detective wrongly called the allegations “credible and true” before his force had even completed the inquiries.
Unfortunately it seems his source is now in jail for making up ‘facts’.
You should always check where the information comes from before you believe something!
Tomorrow – why shock news that the taxpayer will foot the bill with a far higher compensation order when hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly pursued through the courts by the Post Office in the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history, highlights a recent bizarre controversy at football’s governing body in Wales.
Phil’s memories of his remarkable decades long award-winning career in journalism (when it was vital to rely on trusted sources) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.